The Cambridge Chancellor election -- in 1847
I haven't been to the Manuscripts Room of the University Library for a year of so (chance would be a fine thing). So I hadn't caught up with the new policing regime that I found when I showed up there this week: you now have to sign in on a separate admissions list, and you aren't allowed to take in even the small size bags that are allowed into the rest of the Library; instead you have to leave it in a locker outside. . . and you end up having to get the key back (because, wisely maybe, they dont trust you to keep the key on your person) every time you want to get 25p to buy a new pencil, or whatever.
I'm sure that this is all very sensible, and a good way of protecting the collection. But it does have a nasty way of criminilising you, and of raising the uncomfortable possibility that you and every other reader in the room might be liable to snitch some precious document as soon as anyone's back might be turned. (I wonder how many people it pushes to crime, at the same time as it makes it harder for them.)
Anyway, I was not to be put off, as I was there on the search of more things about the history of the Fitzwilliam. One thing I wanted to get to the bottom of was the celebrations in 1842 in honour of the new chancellor, the Duke of Northumberland, part of which took place in the Museum before the building ad even been finished. Just HOW unfinished I wondered.
One likely looking document was catalogued as the description of the election and installation of about 5 new Chancellors over the course of the nineteenth century, a manuscript written by eager, obsessive and rather smart nineteenth-century bureaucrats, keen to pass on the proceedings to their successors.
It turned out not to have anything to help me about the state of the Fitzwilliam in 1842, but it had lots of juicy stuff about the election of 1847 -- which turned out to have quite a lot in common with the election we are to have in October.
As I vaguely recollected (but it was brought vividly to life by this carefully written account), the establishment candidate in 1847 was Prince Albert (above) -- but, against him, the awkward squad, largely based in St John's, put up a rival in the shape of the Earl of Powis (a truly awful Tory, MP for Ludlow, and dyed in the wool opponent of the 1832 Reform Act).
After a bit of a wobble the Prince did not actually withdraw and went through with a lively election, which offers a load of tips for the supporters of the rival candidates this time round... including organising committees, and specially chartered trains from London to bring the voters in. (One of the things that the Prince's opponents worried about was that he would try to Germanise the University -- another was that the backdoor connection between University and crown was a bit unseemly.)
It appears to have been a spirited fight, with Albert winning comfortably but not by a huge majority. The anonymous bureaucrat of my document then lavishes his pen on the dinner held at the palace to celebrate the successful election (silver knives and forks for the first course, he insists, gold for the dessert..). Apparently the Earl of Powis was invited but couldn't come.
Which all makes you wonder about how the victory of Lord Sainsbury, the Mill Road hero, Brian Blessed or Michael Mansfield might be celebrated in October. Not so extravagantly, I guess, but I'll let you know.
(On another question, the big backer of Albert was W. Whewell, the Master of Trinity, who a few years later got into trouble for re-hanging the Fitzwilliam pretty much on his own over the Christmas holidays. One of his excuses was that he needed to put the nudes in less prominent positions... does anyone know of other examples of that kind of thing in the 1850s?)