Love letters between the parents of future British prime minister Arthur Balfour have been published online by the National Records of Scotland (NRS).


The NRS purchased thousands of items from the Balfour family archive for just over £500,000 last year.

Images of the love letters may be viewed on NRS’ website.

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James Maitland Balfour was born on 5 January 1820, son of James Balfour, a wealthy contractor for the East India Company, and Lady Eleanor Balfour, daughter of James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale.

By 1843 he was MP for Haddington and had fallen in love with Lady Blanche Mary Harriet Gascoyne Cecil, daughter of James Brownlow, 2nd Marquess of Salisbury.

The letters on the NRS’ website include the letter of 15 July 1843 in which James declares his love for Lady Blanche and proposes marriage, writing: "My dearest Lady Blanche

“I cannot leave town with no chance of seeing you again for many months without doing that which must either make me the happiest or most wretched of men. O Lady Blanche, I love you deeply fervently and O how happy should I be if I could only hope that that love was returned. You must have seen what are my feelings towards you… If however this is not the case and you cannot hold out any hopes to me I must resign myself to my fate but my most fervent prayer will be for your happiness and the hours I have spent with you will be looked back upon as the brightest of my life… yours most truly and devotedly JM Balfour."

The 1843 letter in which James Balfour proposes marriage to Lady Blanche (Source: The National Records of Scotland)

Lady Blanche duly accepted. The collection also includes letters from the couples’ families congratulating them on their engagement and even a poem written by Lady Blanche’s nine-year-old brother Lord Eustace Cecil.

Veronica Schreuder, NRS’ archivist, said: “History already documents the union of these two immensely influential families but these private letters show us the tender young couple in love, eager that they would get on with each other’s families.”

The couple were married in less than a month, possibly because Lady Blanche’s widowed father, the Marquess of Salisbury, wanted to remarry but wanted his daughter to marry first. In one letter, Lady Eleanor Maitland says that she is “amazed” at the speed of her son’s marriage.

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The wedding took place on 21 August 1843 at Hatfield House, the Cecils’ country house in Hertfordshire.

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The couple had eight children together. Among them were Arthur Balfour (1848-1930), prime minister from 1902 to 1905 and foreign secretary from 1916 to 1919; Eleanor Sidgwick (1845-1936), principal of Newnham College of the University of Cambridge; and Alice Balfour (1850-1936), a scientist and one of the earliest pioneers of the field of genetics.

Sadly, James Balfour developed tuberculosis of the lungs in 1854 and died in Madeira, where the family had travelled in the hope that a warmer climate would help his health, on 23 February 1856.

Lady Blanche dedicated the rest of her life to mourning him and raising and educating her children, and died on 16 May 1872, aged 47.


Rosemary Collins is the features editor of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine