Part of a series of papers and presentations from William Cross, FSA Scot on notable British women who are often overlooked by historians and biographers. This site refers to the Journals/ Diaries of Mary, 4th Countess of Minto.

 William Cross, FSA Scot, is a writer and researcher based in Newport, Gwent, South Wales. He is currently compiling a biography of Almina, Countess of Carnarvon, 1876-1969. The book entitled " Tales From The Cabbage Patch : The Life and Curse of Almina Carnarvon" will be completed in 2010/11.

A Dip into the Journals of Mary,  4th Countess of Minto

By William Cross, FSA Scot

With thanks to Monty Dart

Mary Caroline Grey,  1858-1940,  4th Countess of Minto

Born: 13 November 1858  Died:  14 July 1940

This brief note on the Countess of Minto’s Journals/ diaries is based on two days research (24th /25th May 2010) at the National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Department in Edinburgh.


Mary, 4th Countess of Minto was a popular Society figure, with a celebrated reputation as a loyal wife, in particular supporting her husband when he was Viceroy of India. She was an enthusiastic subscriber to charitable causes and a notable member for many decades of Queen Mary’s household.  Mary was a strong mother figure too who held her family together following her husband’s death, with two of her five children pre-deceasing her.


Born Mary Caroline Grey (later Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound)( 1858-1940) she was the daughter of General the Hon. Charles Grey, ( 1804-1870) private secretary to Prince Albert, and later Queen Victoria. Mary’s mother was Caroline Eliza Farquhar (1814-1890); her paternal grandfather was the 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister and franchise reformer.


From 1891 Mary Grey was the 4th Countess of Minto, wife of Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound (1845-1914), one of Britain’s finest old world colonial diplomats and statesmen.


Mary Minto has left behind a substantial body of written material, which is held by the National Library of Scotland, in Edinburgh.  Her Journals / diaries  (MS 12458-12472) cover the years 1911-1936, but with gaps in between; her engagement diaries (MS 12454- 57) roughly span the India years 1906-1910 and her General Correspondence (MS 12433-12451) covers a vast period of her life and family history, 1877-1939.  MS 12452 comprises letters and copies of letters to Lady Minto containing tributes following the death of her husband in 1914.


There is no name index to any of the volumes or letters. This means a visit to Edinburgh for a creeping check of the records is the only way of ascertaining the ground covered and for drawing out the people and events mentioned in Mary’s life and times. The material has been used by several writers, in particular political historians of the era of the Indian Raj and Viceroy.


On the return of the Mintos from India, Mary was appointed a Lady in Waiting to Queen Mary and following the death of King George V, in 1936 she was made an Extra Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Mary.  These positions ensure her Journals also give an interesting insight into Court life as they do of her travels with King George V and Queen Mary, at home and abroad.


Lady Minto’s husband’s written material is vast too, and also held at the National Library of Scotland, including the diaries and correspondence reflecting his notable career, including time as Governor General of Canada  (1898-1904) and Viceroy of India (1905-1910), with Lady Minto at his side, in India as Vicereine.


Mary drew extensively on the Journals/ diaries for her book on this period India, Minto and Morley,  Published by Macmillan, 1934. In common with another political widow, Elizabeth, 4th Countess of Carnarvon,  (1856- 1929), a few decades before the high dramas of India under respectively Lords Curzon and Minto and Morley (Secretary of State for India),  each of these women was determined to substitute their own words to maintain their husband’s record. Mary was always sensitive to comment on her spouse’s Colonial and political dealings.  She naturally did everything to ward off criticism of her husband’s memory and challenged those like Morley who wanted to remould the record.   William St John Fremantle Brodrick,  (1856-1942), 1st Earl of Midleton, was a regular correspondent and ally of the Mintos. He was predecessor of Morley as Secretary of State for India.  His letters are full of gossip.( See also National Archives Kew Reference  PRO 30/67.)


In her own right Lady Minto gave her name to the famed “Lady Minto’s Indian Nursing Association”,  which she began in 1906, and was its President for many years. One obituary in 1940 highlights Mary’s contribution to nursing when she organised a  great fete in Calcutta to raise funds “ to provide and maintain a service of fully trained nurses for Europeans throughout Northern India and Burma.” ( see American Journal of Nursing Sept 1940, Vol 40 (8)). There is a file  in the Royal College of Nursing Archives, Edinburgh( Ref C/123 )  which includes a booklet about the Association’s work, written as a tribute to Mary. The Association ceased in 1949.


Mary’s Marriage and her children


Mary married Gilbert John Elliot Murray-Kynynmound (when Viscount Melgund)  on 28 July 1883, at St Margaret’s Westminster, London.  He succeeded to title of 4th Earl of Minto in  1891    -  The 4th Earl was  born on  9 July 1845 and died 1 March 1914.


The Mintos had a family of two sons  (1) Victor Gilbert Lasiston Garnet (1891-1975 ) ( from 1914, 5th Earl Minto), and ( 2) Gavin William Esmond ( 1895-1917) (Lieutenant in the Scots Guards, killed in action, 6 August 1917 ) and three daughters  (1) Eileen Nina Evelyn Sibell ( 1884-1938) ( Lady Francis Scott );  (2)  Ruby Florence Mary (1886-1961), ( Countess of  Cromer ) ; (3) Violet Mary ( 1889-1965), twice married first husband Lord Charles Francis Mercer Naire Petty Fizmaurice ( killed in action at Ypres 30 October 1914 ), second husband  John Jacob Astor ( Lord Astor of Hever ) (1886-1971).       


Mary’s Later Life and Funeral


In 1938, Margot Asquith, Lady Oxford, persuaded Mary to make a contribution to a gem of a book called “ Myself When Young”.  At the time of Mary’s death Margot recalled that the Countess of Minto “ never had an enemy in any of the worlds in which she lived, a great lady, adored by her children (two of them sadly predeceased her) and at her ease in whatever society she moved. ” (See The Times 16 July 1940).


Mary, Countess of Minto was remembered with at least three funeral services. Her funeral and internment was at Minto, Hawick, Roxburghshire, in the borders of Scotland on Thursday 17 July 1940. She also had a memorial service ( by the permission of King George VI) at the Chapel Royal, St James Palace,  the same day and  a memorial service was also held  in  St Peter’s Church, Hambledon, Surrey, on Friday 18 July, 1940 near her last home at Godalming.


Mary's Journals / Diaries National Library of Scotland References  12458-12472 


12458 :   March – June 1911

12459 :  July- December 1911

12460 :  1912

12461 :  January- March 1913

12462 :  April – May 1913

12463 :  March- October 1914

12464 :  April-August 1915- October 1907

12465 :  August-November 1915

12466 :  January-December 1916

12467 :  December 1916- January 1917

12468 :  1922

12469  : May 1923 April 1932

12470  : 1927

12471 :  1929

12472 :  1936


Reasons for  examining Mary Minto’s  Journals/ Diaries


The interest  in Lady Minto was sparked by work running in parallel  for a biography of Almina, 5th Countess of Carnarvon, 1876-1969, another nursing Countess, albeit Almina first came to the calling during the Great War. No persuasive evidence has emerged that these two Society women were ever closely acquainted. They both knew Sir John Cowans,  1862-1921, QuarterMaster General of the Army in the Great War. Cowans features prominently in Mary’s diaries and correspondence.


There are numerous Society overlaps between Mary and Almina. Events, where they both attended between 1896 and 1937 have been culled in a source list from The Times Court Circulars, and is available to enquirers.


Another link to prompt interest was with Mary and Almina’s shared friendship involving Lord Kitchener. Certain American newspapers, including the respected Washington Post of 1915-6   leaked the news of a romance and prospective marriage of Lady Minto to the great warhorse Kitchener but who drowned on board HMS Hampshire in 1916. (See Washington Post 17 December 1915). Any romance between them must have crumbled, or was at best exaggerated.    Mary’s diaries and correspondence show there was a particularly strong friendship between Lord Minto and Kitchener, and Mary knew him too on equally pleasant terms. Kitcheners wrote personally to Mary describing the scenes at Court following the death of King Edward VII ( MS 12448).  She vividly, although reservedly, records in her Journals anxious feelings when the rumours of Kitchener’s loss first became known. Several pages of her Journal are devoted to Kitchener’s death and its aftermath. It was an event that clearly upset her, and she, like the whole country mourned.


A third reason for consulting Mary Minto’s Journals was to hone in on her observations (at Queen Mary’s side) about the visit by King George V and Queen Mary to Rome and the Vatican City in May 1923. This is linked to research conducted (with my writing partner Monty Dart ) in the Vatican Secret Archives in 2009 regarding Hon. Evan Frederick Morgan, (1893-1949), Papal Chamberlain, later 2nd ( and last ) Viscount Tredegar.  There is a description (in pencil, which resembles a rough draft running to many pages) of the Italian trip and meetings and some personalities involved but there was no reference found to Evan Morgan. He was introduced, along with the other Englishmen in the Papal household to their King and Queen. ( See The Times 10 May 1923 ).


A final reason for looking at the Journals was to explore further the life of Mary Minto’s daughter Eileen (1884-1938) (later Lady Francis Scott) and Mary’s son in law Lord Francis Scott (1879-1956) of the Kenya Colony.       

Observations on the Journals/ Diaries


There are 15 volumes covering 1911-1936  but there is not a complete run of her  Journals /diaries for all years.  These bound volumes ( that have suffered fatigue through their age )  are largely handwritten and  somewhat difficult to unravel in places. 


It is possible some additional material survives in the Minto or related family as there were/ are perceived sensitivities and drilled down.   It may be that Mary did not wish to record her innermost feelings where she was hit a particularly heavy blow.  She does mention gaps, and not having the dedication to record some entries (e.g. During the Great War) and so the continuity is often patchy.  Notwithstanding the content of MS 12452, the letters etc to Lady Minto after the death of her husband ( on 1 March 1914 ), there is no diary for March 1914 that captures Mary's feelings on his monumental loss. She affectionately calls him “Rolly”. This was the 4th Earl's name when he rode as a gentleman rider in the 1870s ( Mr. Rolly )). However where entries survive for 1 March after 1914, Mary vividly recalls her deceased husband and her own profound and loving feelings at each point in time  ( NB This is also subject of comment by Pat Jalland in the excellent book “Death in the Victorian Family” ).


Nor is there a diary entry that covers the loss of Mary’s  youngest son Gavin Esmond in 1917, from wounds sustained in World War One serving with the Scots Guards. There is no diary for 1938 when her daughter  Lady Eileen Scott ( wife of Lord Francis Scott ) died.  Mary's daughter Violet was also widowed in  the Great War when her husband “Charlie” ( son of the 5th Marquess of  Landowne) was killed in 1914. This event is recorded by Mary in her diaries.


Lady Minto was at the centre of her family her whole life through. . She survived the 4th Earl by 26 years. The children's early letters were gleaned - these display evidence of the absent parents but of the compulsory writing of letters especially to their father as he masterminded his colonial roles in Canada and India. These letters indicate the 4th Earl  wrote regularly to his children. Family occasions, especially birthday are a main feature, as were hobbies of the children on the Minto Estate, which invariably involved horses.  The children had nurses and it seems one of the relatives (presumed) Nana Maggie was around to help bring up the children. The 4th Earl lost his mother in 1882, Mary lost hers in 1890, which means they did not live to see the children fully raised to adulthood. Nana may not mean grandmother.


One particularly interesting series of entries relate to Mary's  stays at Windsor Castle,  Balmoral;  Buckingham Palace and Sandringham with the Royals.  She accompanied the Queen on a large number of events, and the King and Queen abroad,  with her observations in the diaries on visits to Berlin ( 1912 ) ( MS12460)   and Rome ( 1923 ) ( MS 12469). 


The diaries are occasionally hard to read and sprawling at times. Mary makes reference to a good many events of her era, the Death of the Duke of Fife, (MS 12460, folio 121) the sinking of the Titanic (MS 12460, folio 85-86), the Declaration of  War 1914 ( MS 12463, folio 65 )   the Death of Lord Kitchener ( MS 12466, folio 84 - ),  the death of George V ( MS 12472).  She pasted newspaper items in the Journals of particular events ( the unveiling of a statue to the 4th Earl ( and another of the Indian Viceroys) was one of note, as were a few family intimation ( e.g. the remarriage of Violet to one of the Astors – see above). There are a number of lists posted throughout the Journals showing the members and locations of those in the Royal Household.


Much of the Journals/ diaries have an ongoing thread about her worries over her youngest son fighting in the trenches (but  she received comforting reports of him from Kitchener and his staff.)   Mary's other concern was over her most vulnerable daughter, Eileen. She was unmarried at the time of the  4th Earl’s death. Eileen had a passion for the theatre and was fond of acting. Her mother's observations are complimentary about her acting abilities. 


Eileen's brother Gilbert ( also called Larry)  - later 5th Earl- was a friend of Lord Francis Scott - a son of the Duke of Buccleuch.    It seems the match with Francis was to attempt to provide Eileen with some stability after a love affair with a man called Ross was ended by her parents. Francis was not going to inherit the family titles as he was the youngest son. He settled with Eileen in Kenya after the Great War  Eileen remained it seems aloof very much in the mould of being a Viceroy's daughter.


Whilst Francis attempted a living at farming ( along with others in the Kenya Colony of the 1920s and 1930s ). Eileen insisted they keep up the gentry's standards of dressing for dinner and the holding of evenings ( and days)  of entertaining, with grand garden parties. She was a eccentric of sorts.  Reference is made to Mary being relieved when she had letters saying that all was well in Kenya. Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, a niece of Eileen makes interesting reference to this in her published life retrospectives, from holidays spent in Kenya. The Kenya Colony is an aspect of my researches into the “Daughters of Kinniard”,  concerning the family of James, 9th Earl of Southesk, whose son Hon Robert  Francis Carnegie ( 1869-1947)  was also a leading member of that community.

Further Suggested Reading

“Lord Minto, A Memoir” : John Buchan (1924)

“India, Minto and Morley” ( 1934).

“Death in the Victorian Family” :  Pat Jalland. (1996)

“Princess Alice: Memories of Ninety Years” : Duchess of Gloucester. ( 1991)

Louisa, Lady in Waiting: Personal Diaries and Albums of Louisa, Lady in Waiting to Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra  : Louisa,Countess of Antrim and Elizabeth Longford. ( 1979)

“The Indian papers of the 4th Earl of Minto including his service on the North West Frontier during the Afghan War of 1879 and as Viceroy, 1905-1910.” from the National Library of Scotland. A guide to the microfilm edition introduced by Dr. William Gould


I wish to express my thanks to Monty Dart and to the staff at the National Library of Scotland, in particular Dr Maria Castrillo.




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