National Records of Scotland

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Love letters of former PM’s parents go online

Love letters of former PM’s parents go online

Tuesday, 14 Feb 2023
Picture showing a portrait of James Maitland Balfour

The selection of romantic letters of former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour’s parents are being published online for Valentine’s Day by National Records of Scotland.

The correspondence from 1843 between James Maitland Balfour, MP for Haddington, his wife Lady Blanche Cecil and their relatives are among a huge collection of family papers bought for the national archives by NRS last year.

Archivist Veronica Schreuder 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. We’re putting extracts online today so people can read them for themselves.”

In a letter dated 15 July, exactly one month to the date of their wedding, JM Balfour writes:

“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.”

Lady Blanche accepted his proposal and triggered a flurry of excited letters between family members. There are congratulations from his parents, his brother-in-law and even her nine year old brother. Lady Eleanor, Balfour’s mother, confesses she had “fears and dread of a daughter-in-law” but is now “quite delighted to think my fate is fixed so delightfully”. She also tells her son that his father approved. He quickly forwards the letter onto his fiancée “you will see by [the letter] what a good impression you have made on all of them…I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to see that they all like you as much I certainly never have done anything to deserve being so very happy as I now am.”

Her brother, Lord Robert Cecil playfully joked with his sister: ‘you the cool, unprejudiced, and romantic Blanche have condescended to marry your first season; without having teazed a hundred loves with fruitless hopes without having caused any duels or created any animosity between your admirers…’

The couple were married at Lady Blanche’s family home Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. The Duke of Wellington, then leader of the House of Lords, was among the guests and he gave them the use of a property on his estate for their honeymoon. James Balfour was 23 and Lady Blanche 18 years old at the time.

Veronica Schreuder added:

“In some ways their story is a sad one as James Balfour died only 13 years later at the age of 36 from TB but it was also a successful marriage. They had eight children; three daughters and five sons who would all go on to lead influential lives. Their eldest son  Arthur followed in the footsteps of his uncle the Marquess of Salisbury to become Prime Minister in 1902. He would also serve as Foreign Secretary in 1916-1919.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The full story and digitised images of the original letters can be read on our website
  2. Details of the purchase of the Balfour family archive were released last year and are available on the NRS website
  3. Attached are photographs of Lady Blanche and James Maitland Balfour. The images of Lady Blanche must be credited: Reproduced with permission of the Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield House.
  4. Portrait – Portrait of James Balfour by George Richmond, 1837. NRS, GD433/2/473/11
  5. House – A photograph of Whittingehame House, n.d. NRS, GD433/2/483/1


Susie Rose 07500 463 452