Editorial Rationale

This is an interesting moment at which to be editing Bess's letters online. Over the past decade the web has been opening up the possibilities and potentials for how we access, navigate and read medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and many more texts are now available for teaching and research purposes that were previously inaccessible. At the same time, there has been gathering interest in the retrieval of women's vocies from the early modern archive, in particular, women's letters, which are the largest corpus we have of women's writing from the sixteenth century (Daybell, 2006: 265).

Only a handful of Bess's letters have previously been edited, despite Bess's extraordinary life and the intrinsic interest of her remarkable letters. The scattered distribution of Bess's manuscript letters (described in Editing Bess of Hardwick's Letters > Locating the Letters) perhaps, in part, explains why there has been no previous attempt to edit her complete correspondence. It is an issue greatly expedited by the availability of digital images and by libraries and archives opening up their collections through digital media.

In this context, there are several good reasons for choosing to edit Bess's letters. Not least is that from archival, material and palaeographical points of view, her letters are complex documents. This means they raise textual and interpretative issues which will be relevant to other editors and readers of Renaissance manuscripts and letters in general, and of women's letters in particular, both in print and online.

As with literary works, there are traditionally seen to be two editorial approaches to letters. On the one hand there are editions that prioritise authorship and intentionality; these are concerned with presenting the author's final intended text. On the other hand, there are editions that prioritise bibliographic and linguistic codes; these are concerned to present the document and its material form. The potential conflict or tension between these two approaches is well known amongst editors, especially editors of women's writing. Notably, the editors of the Perdita project have written on this topic and have observed the potential for competition between of author-focused (or 'gynocritcal') editions against bibliographical editorial agendas (Gibson and Wright, 2003).

The author-focused model has held an important place in feminist editing. A good example is Sara Jayne Steen's 1994 edition of the letters of Arbella Stuart, Bess's granddaughter. Steen describes hers as a feminist edition that puts the female author at centre stage: 'our guiding principle in editing women's letters' says Steen 'should be to interfere as little as possible with the sound of their voices' and to 'treat early modern women fairly by retaining valuable textual signifiers of voice and eliminating aspects of the document that interfere with that voice for modern readers' (1994: 231). That is, Steen is concerned to eliminate any aspect (whether material forms or accidental features of script or writing) that might distract the reader from the core message of the woman writer herself.

Steen's approach is tenable in the case of Arbella's letters. The author-function and the concept of voice can be applied to Arbella's letters as guiding principles - not only because of Arbella's expressive prose, but also because most of the extant letters are from Arbella (rather than to her), most are in Arbella's own hand and they also cluster into fairly distinct and coherent periods of letter-writing activity.

Bess's letters are very different to Arbella's in all of these respects. There is no previous edition of Bess's letters for comparison, but there are notable cases where one letter, or a handful of letters, have been edited as part of a larger collection. It is worth pausing for a moment to mention two examples, as these reflect important strands of the biographical tradition. These are also examples that prioritises the author's voice and reflect the desire on the part of editors and readers for direct communion with Bess as a writer capable of speaking to us directly.

The first example is a letter edited by Edmund Lodge (1756-1839), the herald and biographer. The letter appears is his monumental Illustrations of British History (London, 1791). Lodge omits most of Bess's letters in his edition - the real hero of the edition is, in many senses, Bess's fourth husband, George, sixth earl of Shrewsbury, ancestor of the Duke of Norfolk to whom Lodge dedicates his edition.

Shrewsbury and Bess were, famously, the custodians of Mary, Queen of Scots, and, notoriously, during her imprisonment, their marriage broke down in spectacular and dramatic style. Given Lodge's concern to promote Shrewsbury as well as his desire to make his history entertaining reading, he writes biographical sketches of Shrewsbury and Bess that he spices with his own insights into their characters. In his biography of Shrewsbury Lodge laments that the earl was 'vexed by the jealousy and rapacity of an unreasonable wife' (i.e. Bess; 1791: I, xv) and his biographical sketch of Bess has echoed down the centuries. According to Lodge, Bess was:

unsated with the wealth and the caresses of three husbands, she finished her conquests by marrying the Earl of Shrewsbury, the richest and most powerful Peer of his time ... she was a woman of a masculine understanding and conduct; proud, furious, selfish, and unfeeling (Lodge, 1791: I, xvii)

Lodge's diatribe continues in this way and, while his anti-feminist viewpoint might seem to us outdated, we must recall that Lodge is still very much with us today as a source for understanding Bess. To take just one example, John Guy in his 2004 award-winning biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, now the standard account of her life, cites this exact quotation from Lodge in order to describe Bess. So it seems we do still need to critique Lodge as a source.

Lodge selects several letters that feature Shrewsbury complaining about his wife (listed under Bess's name in the index to Lodge's edition). Whereas the single letter Lodge chooses to include from Bess is intended to support his introductory biographical sketch. In fact Lodge, unusually, adds a footnote to this one letter from Bess, in which he asks his readers to read her letter in this light:

* ... This letter, though on trifling subjects, will serve somewhat to illustrate her extraordinary character, some account of which is given in the introduction... (Lodge, 1791: II, 167-69)

The letter is from Bess to Shrewsbury, in her own hand and features family and estate news and requests for building materials ID 182. There is no doubt at all that this is a teasing and affectionate letter written during a harmonious stage of her marriage to Shrewsbury. The letter opens 'my deare harte' and in a gesture of wifely affection Bess encloses lettuce 'I haue sent you letyss for that you loue them'. The material context is important here and it is difficult to imagine a thoughtful food-gift of lettuce (which was a seasonal delicacy) being sent by a wife who was embittered and furious. Yet this seems to be how Lodge is determined to read the tone, and he even goes so far as to make a number of editorial adjustments to the text of the letter in order to artificially introduce an aggravated or sarcastic tone of voice. To give one example, in the original letter Bess writes:

you promysed to sende me money afore thys tyme to by oxxen, but I se out of syght ^out^ of mynde wt your onkende none

Lodge changes this to:

You promysed to sende me money afore thys tyme to by oxxen, but I se out of syght out of mynde wt you.

That is, Lodge removes Bess's affectionate humour and the pet name ('none' i.e. my own). The tone should be read as a teasing jibe regarding her husband's necessary obligations and preoccupations, not as spiteful bitterness or fury.

Revisionist biographers in the twentieth century reacted to Lodge by re-writing Bess's biography to re-cast her as a more positive figure, and to emphasise her qualities as an intelligent businesswoman, a persuasive personality and a visionary builder. However, just like Lodge, revisionist biographers have selected carefully from among the letters and, in places, tweaked the language of the letters in order to fit with what they perceived to be an acceptable version of Bess's persona. The case of the letter edited by Rawson and Williams has already been discussed (in Bess of Hardwick's Life in 12 Letters > The earliest letter from Bess: to her servant Francis Whitfield, 1552), in which Bess's letter is bowdlerised so as to make her voice sound more genteel. That is, like Lodge, the revisionist tradition has engaged in a process of re-casting and re-writing Bess's letters in order to fit a particular biographical agenda.

These examples remind us that editions are narratives. They remind us that in every edition the voice of the author is blended with that of the editor. Author-focused editions strive through processes of supplementation and imitation to restore an authorial voice, which is partly the editor's voice. In each of these examples, the chosen letter is tied to a particular and stable view of Bess's character and construction of her as a writer. While such attempts to fix character may be sustainable in relation to a single letter, they are not sustainable across the entire corpus of Bess's letters.

What we find, as we read the whole corpus, is that these are layered documents in which agency is not a singular entity and the locus of authority is constantly shifting and highly mediated (Clark, 2003). There is much to be learned from medievalists here, who have regularly grappled with these issues. Stephanie Trigg (1990), for example, has written on the notion of editing as forging and urges editors to be attentive to and to listen for the different voices in any particular text that mediate and supplement the author's voice.

This is relevant advice in relation to Bess's letters. It relates to key editorial questions as to what should be allowed into this edition and what should be shut out and excluded. To put it another way, if the concept of this edition is to edit 'Bess of Hardwick's letters', then what do we mean by this? What counts as or constitutes a Bess of Hardwick letter? Such questions and concerns are the topic of discussion in the next sections, in which policies of inclusion and exclusion are outlined, followed by an account of transcription and annotation policies in this web-edition.

Letters Included

Letters to and from

As well as the letters from Bess, this web-edition includes letters to her (there are more than 80 letters from Bess and more than 150 to her - these numbers are inexact because some letters were sent twice, or were forwarded or were directed to another recipient). The letters to Bess tell us about her the large scope and social range of her correspondence, how she was perceived and cast by others, as well as about her reading literacy (further discussion of which is provided in the tutorial). To include all the letters to Bess in a print edition could mean the danger that the letters from her become lost - drowned out amid the clamour of the voices of all the other correspondents. However, this is not a risk or a problem online, where we are able to browse and sort by correspondent and therefore bring all the letters from Bess together, if we so wish. At any moment, we can bring Bess to centre stage, and eliminate all others from view.

But I would not recommend we ignore the other correspondents altogether. The letters to Bess contextualise her writing as part of a dynamic social circuit. The way Bess is cast and shaped by those writing about her, directly relates to the way she shapes her own self-image. The way Bess is constructed by her different correspondents and their scribes tells us how they perceived her as a reader, and the response they anticipated from her. Furthermore, the letters to Bess can imply something of what was there on the other side but is now, in some cases, lost.

The letters to Bess also tell us about the rhetorical and linguistic scripts, as well as material forms and features, that she encountered in her reading and her ability, in turn, to then use these for expression and articulation in her own letter-writing. An edition must include space for discussion and observation of these formulae and conventions, which are the warp and weft of Renaissance letters.

A good example here would be the letters relating to Bess's marriage breakdown in the 1580s. Her fourth husband George, sixth earl of Shrewsbury, shapes her as a 'noe good wife' ID 117, in letters that are loaded with the terms and ideologies of contemporary discourse on marriage (as found in conduct books, sermons and religious tracts). In her letters of response, Bess provides counter-narratives to those of Shrewsbury in which she portrays herself as the ideal Renaissance wife - patient, obedient and dutiful - according to the very same contemporary discourses on marriage. Shrewsbury's letters are vicious and vitriolic. They are also compelling, carefully crafted performances, in which he plays the part of the betrayed and frustrated husband. In this war of words, Shrewsbury's letters may well have been designed for public circulation.

The responsible editorial decision here has to be to include these letters to Bess from Shrewsbury, because they tell us so much about what Bess of up against as a writer and how high the stakes were. As she was often unable to represent herself in person at court, Bess had to rely on her friends and her letters to defend herself and to express her own loyalty or innocence to the Queen and the Queen's councillors. That Bess's letters of response to Shrewsbury are impeccably well balanced and articulate in their expression, and that they all use one particular scribe, tells us about her skills and strategies for operating within epistolary culture.

Letters jointly to and from

The policy of this web-edition, then, is to include letters to and letters from Bess. In reality, however, the situation is more complex than is implied by 'to' and 'from'. We find across the correspondence a spectrum of shared, dual and overlapping collaborative epistolary practices. In particular, Bess's letters remind us that early modern letter-writing was not necessarily an individual or 'private' activity. Husbands and wives, mothers and sons or other groups and pairs, were regularly involved in sending or receiving letters together, and cases can be reviewed using the filter by joint senders or recipients.

These various kinds of jointly sent and received letters - co-signed, co-read, forwarded or annotated with postscripts - are included in this edition. While this might sound like a fairly inclusive policy, there were potentially many more letters that could have been included. In particular, letters not addressed to Bess but that she did read might have been included. That is to say, many of the letters Bess read and received were not written to her, but were among those circulated and shared with other members of the family, household or her wider network - a common practice indicated in various references. To take just one example: there is the reference to Bess receiving her husband Shrewsbury's letters on his behalf on the eve of the arrival of their charge, Mary, Queen of Scots, when she writes to the earl of Leicester regarding 'your lorddshypp latters dyrected vnto my lord my husband and to me yn hys absence' ID 107. Further discussion is provided, below, of 'letters not included' in this web-edition but which certainly came within the remit of Bess's reading experience.

With regard to policy on the joint letters included, only those individuals explicitly addressed are recorded as recipients in this web-edition. Usually the recipient(s) are listed in the superscription, such as when Shrewsbury writes to his wife Bess via his son Gilbert Talbot, due to an illness she is suffering, 11 September 1580. The superscription is addressed:

To my sune gylbard talbott to be delyverd to my wyfe the countes of Shrewsbury ID 154

In this case, in the catalogue to this web-edition, both Gilbert and Bess are recorded as recipients of the letters. In other cases, there is a fracture between the superscription on the outside of the letter packet and the letter inside. For example, when Bess writes to Sir John Thynne and his wife Christian, 25 April 1560, only John is named in the superscription ('To the right worshipfull and my verey good frende Sir Iohn Thyn Knight') whereas both are greeted in the opening of the letter ('my verey hertie commendacions vnto you good Sir Iohn Thyn and to my Lady') ID 113. It is a reminder of one of the ways in which women tend to be less visible in the archive: their presence and participation in literate culture, as here, can be assumed or implied, but is not always explicitly stated. Both Sir John and his wife Christian are recorded as recipients in the catalogue to this web-edition.

Likewise, while we must remain aware of the potential for letters to be read more widely, only those individuals who actual sign a letter are recorded as senders in this web-edition. For example, Bess's response to a petition from the tenants of the High Peak, 31 January 1603/4, is signed only by Bess herself, although it is clear that the letter was produced with her son William Cavendish in close attendance. As Bess states in the letter, William's own response is carried by the same bearer ID 161. Only Bess is recorded as sender in this web-edition, but the letter nevertheless reminds us that this mother and son combination collaborated closely on business matters during the latter years of Bess's life.

Letters which are sent, unsent, drafts, contemporary copies or unique post-mortem copies

This web-edition aims to include all versions of letters to and from Bess from her lifetime, transcribed in full, i.e. that includes versions which are sent, unsent, copies or drafts. This was a fairly straightforward editorial decision because there are very few cases where we have two or more similar versions of the same letter. That is to say, it is not the case that any individual letters were re-copied and widely circulated or published in print (i.e. where it would be necessary to create a critical edition and select between multiple textual variants). Nor is it the case here that we have large numbers of duplicate letters and there are only a few cases where we have both sent and unsent (such as draft) versions.

Each document is given its own ID number and its delivery status is recorded. So, where there is a unsent draft as well as a sent version of a letter, each document has its own unique ID. For example, in the case of the letter from Elizabeth I to Bess and Shrewsbury, Elizabeth's draft (now held in the State Papers in TNA) is ID 221 and the sent version (now held in the Shrewsbury-Talbot Papers at Lambeth Palace Library) is ID 172.

In addition to contemporary drafts and copies, we have a number of post-mortem copies, i.e. a hand-written copy of a letter, apparently made from an original, but copied after Bess's death. The decision has been made, for this web-edition, only to include a post-mortem copy where the original is no longer extant. There is only one instances where this is the case: ID 220 the copy of the letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, made by antiquary John Pinkerton (1758-1826) and now in the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. This is the only record we have of this letter. Other post-mortem copies are described, below, in 'letters not included'.

Arbella's enclosed declaration

When Bess or her correspondents sent a letter, it was often accompanied by other items (such as food gifts, money or household goods) or was enclosed with other letters or documents. In many cases we no longer have the object or enclosure itself (and the treatment of these missing items, in this web-edition, is discussed below in Editing Bess of Hardwick's Letters > Material Features). Occasionally, however, an enclosed letter to or from Bess is extant and can be identified and in one case the decision has been made to include the enclosure within this web-edition.

The case in question involves the letter Bess sent to Sir Robert Cecil and Sir John Stanhope, 2 February 1602/3 ID 130. Enclosed with Bess's letter was a 'declaration' (as it is referred to by Bess in her letter, and by one of Cecil's scribes who adds an endorsement) made by Bess's granddaughter Arbella Stuart. More specifically, it is a statement ostensibly written from Arbella to her grandmother Bess, but which, as Arbella was well aware, was destined to be passed on to the Queen's councillors and to the Queen herself.

The decision has been made to include Arbella's declaration in this web-edition, not least because it relates so closely to Bess's covering letter, which it comments on in such detail that the two, in many ways, function as a unit and need to be read as a piece. Furthermore, although Arbella's enclosure functions as a 'declaration', or statement, intended for the Queen's eyes, its form very much resembles a letter, and it was sent to Bess. In fact, the second endorsement, added by Cecil himself, describes it as Arbella's 'letter': 'The Lady Arbellas first letter ... This ye old Lady sent vp'. For these reasons, then, it is appropriate to include Arbella's declaration among Bess's correspondence. Both the sent copy in Arbella's own hand ID 141 and the administrative copy made by Cecil ID 142 are included in this web-edition.

Letters not included

Letters forwarded to Bess that she annotates

There are several letters that are not addressed to Bess but that we can tell she read, either because she annotates them, or because they ended up in her papers, or both. For example, there is the letter from Anthony Wingfield, written from Court, to his wife, Elizabeth (Leche) Wingfield, in 1575, regarding ideas for suitable New Year's gifts for the Queen. The letter was forwarded to Bess (Elizabeth Wingfield's half sister), as we can see from the two superscriptions and the note, written on the address leaf in Bess's own hand, which gives Bess's assessment of its worth: 'leter of small valew', Cavendish-Talbot Papers, Folger X.d.428 (127) link to images of this letter via Folger Luna [external site].

There are two more letters in Bess's Papers from Anthony Wingfield to Elizabeth Wingfield, also written in 1575 and that also send advice on New Year's gifts for the Queen. These are not annotated by Bess but we might reasonably suspect that they, like the other, were forwarded to her to read. They are:

  • Letter from Anthony Wingfield, the court at Windsor, to Elizabeth Wingfield,1575 October 13 Informs his wife of the different suggestions of the Countess of Sussex and Lady Cobham as to a suitable gift for the Queen. A safeguard and a cloak described in detail, Cavendish-Talbot Papers Folger X.d.428 (127) link to images of this letter via Folger Luna [external site].
  • Letter from Anthony Wingfield, the court, to Elizabeth Wingfield, 13 December ca. 1575 December, Recounts further opinions of the Countess of Sussex on the New Year's gift. Recommends certain colours and embroidery designs. The Queen likes the pansy flower best, Cavendish-Talbot Papers Folger X.d.428 (128) link to images of this letter via Folger Luna [external site].
  • Full description: Folger Shakespeare Library, Finding Aid for the Papers of the Cavendish-Talbot Family [external site]

There would be a good case for including these in any edition of Bess's letters, on the basis that they fall within the remit of her reading experience. However, as there are so many letters that potentially could be argued to fall within this remit, the policy here, at this time, has been only to include letters explicitly addressed to or from Bess.

Letters circulated among family, kin and households

There are many references in Bess's letters, especially during the 1570s, of family members forwarding letters to each other. In particular, during this era, when Bess and Shrewsbury were keepers of the Scots Queen and moving between different houses, they kept in touch by news-letters. The Shrewsburys' sharing of news-letters gives us another example of their overlapping epistolary activities during this era. The situation is spelled out by Shrewsbury's son Gilbert Talbot (whose letters provided a regular supply of news) to his step-mother and mother-in-law Bess, 14 May 1575, when he explicitly states that when he writes to one he writes to both: 'wher I wryte to one it is to bothe' ID 081.

Gilbert's news-letters addressed only to Shrewsbury have not been included in this web-edition, but his comments give us strong cause to consider their place in Bess's correspondence. Certainly anyone interested in Bess's own reading practices, or her exposure to news during this era, should read all of Gilbert's letters to Shrewsbury. For example, Vol. F of the Talbot Papers, at Lambeth Palace Library, has at least 10 letters from Gilbert to Shrewsbury written in the 1570s (some written jointly with his wife, Bess's daughter, Mary), which would no doubt have been of interest to Bess as they send news, bring updates from Court and report on family business. That is, they are likely to have been read by Bess, but are not included in the current web-edition.

The case of Gilbert's news-letters reminds us that we cannot always easily separate the reading practices of husbands and wives. This likely explains why certain other news-letters, although they are addressed to Bess's fourth husband Shrewsbury, and are from his son Francis, ended up in Bess's own Papers; for example:

  • Letter from Francis Talbot, from court, to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, 1573? May. Informs his father of French and Scottish news. The castle at Edinburgh likely to be taken very shortly. There is some talk of a progress to Bristol. Mr. Christopher? Hatton wants to go to the spa because of his great sickness, Cavendish-Talbot Papers Folger X.d.428 (123) link to digital images of this letter via Folger Luna [external site]
  • Letter from Francis Talbot, the court at Greenwich, to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, 1574 May 10 Has learnt nothing of Corker (an ex-chaplain of the Earl of Shrewsbury's), who is still prisoner in the Fleet; the matter is almost forgotten. The Queen means to go to Bristol on her progress. King Phillip is going to Flanders, and the Queen's navy is preparing to go to sea, Cavendish-Talbot Papers Folger X.d.428 (124) link to digital images of this letter via Folger Luna [external site].
  • Full description: Folger Shakespeare Library, Finding Aid for the Papers of the Cavendish-Talbot Family (external site)

Again, as with the letters forwarded from Elizabeth Wingfield (discussed just above), there would be a good case for including these in any edition of Bess's letters, and they should certainly be taken into account when we assess the scope of Bess's correspondence. It reminds us that Bess's epistolary networks were expanded by her marriage to Shrewsbury. That is to say, there would potentially be a good a case for including, in an edition, not only the letters addressed to Bess but many of the others that flowed through the households and came within the remit of her reading experience. The letters to Bess, especially read in combination with her account books, suggest she was reading letters on a daily basis, perhaps sometimes several times a day. Certainly, there would be potentials for linking to related letters or editions in the future - whereby Bess's reading experience becomes the boundary of the edition, rather than addressee.

Letters written on Bess's behalf or at her instigation

We know that on occasion Bess's fourth husband, George, sixth earl of Shrewsbury, put pen to paper in order to garner suppose for his wife. So we find, in 1578 and 1579, 3 letters of petition written by Shrewsbury and signed by Bess, which regard, variously, the child Arbella's entitlements and complaints made against Bess by her tenants at Ashford (ID 188, ID 189, ID 197). These 3 letters are included in this web-edition because they are co-signed by Shrewsbury and Bess. However, there are other cases where Shrewsbury wrote in support of his wife, but the letter is not signed by Bess and is therefore not included here.

To give one example: on 21 January 1581/2, Shrewsbury wrote a letter from his seat at Sheffield, addressed to Lord Burghley and the earl of Leicester, to break the news of the sudden death of his daughter-in-law Elizabeth (Cavendish) Lennox, who was Bess's daughter and the mother of Arbella Stuart:

My verry good Lordes Itt hath pleased god to call to his mercy owtt of this transitive worlde, my doughter Lennoux this present Sondaie be night the xxjth of January aboute Three of the clock in the morninge bothe towardes god and the worlde she made a moste godlie and good ende (British Library, Lansdowne, MS 34, fol. 1)

Shrewsbury goes on, in his letter, to petition for the portion of money previously bestowed on Elizabeth Lennox to now go to the latter's daughter, Bess's granddaughter, Arbella Stuart. He closes his letter by describing his wife Bess's extreme grief, which fully preoccupies her mind, and which means he has chosen to write himself:

My doughter wyffe taketh my doughter Lennoux deathe so grevouslie that she nerther dothe nor can thincke of any thinge but of lamentatinge and wepinge, I thoughte ytt my parte to signifie to bothe your Lo: in what sorte god hath call to her to his mercye, which I beseche youe make knowne to her matie (British Library, Lansdowne, MS 34, fol. 1)

One week later, on 28 January, Bess herself wrote from Sheffield to Lord Burghley to petition for the inheritance due to her now orphaned grandchild Arbella Stuart. Her letter is framed as a continuation of the one from her husband, which she opens with a reference to:

My honorable good Lord your Lordship hath harde by my Lord howe it hathe pleased god to visit me ID 162

Bess goes on, during the course of her letter, to reiterate the suit put forward by Shrewsbury to request the Queen look kindly on the child Arbella's financial situation. Here we have, then, a pair of letters that give us another example of Bess and Shrewsbury's dual epistolary activities. Shrewsbury's letter is not included in this web-edition because it is not explicitly to or from Bess, nevertheless, it reminds of another way in which her epistolary activities could overlap with those of her husband. Bess's own suits and cases - especially those involving Arbella, who was a claimant to the throne - became enmeshed with those of her husband. To fully appreciate the extent to which Bess's own concerns and interests bled into the letters of her husbands, sons or daughters (whether from their own initiative or at Bess's instigation) would require a full review of their letters. The social nature of letters means that such a review is likely to be rewarding.

Duplicate post-mortem copies

As noted above in 'letters included', this web-edition includes one post-mortem copy (ID 220), which is a modern (eighteenth- or nineteenth-century) copy and the only record we have of this particular letter. There are other post-mortem copies but these are not included in this web-edition, either because we have the original sent version from Bess's lifetime, or because these are copied in the hand of Nathaniel Johnston and are therefore either partly or entirely illegible. Other post-mortem copies, not included here, are those made by Canon Jackson now at Longleat House, and those made by Rachel Lloyd, previously at Althorp house and now in the Althorp Papers at the British Library.

Letters enclosed

As noted above in 'letters included', when Bess and her correspondents sent a letter it was often enclosed with another letter, or sometimes several letters were enclosed. In many cases it is no longer possible to identify the enclosure. However, we can do so in the case of the letter Bess writes to Sir Robert Cecil, 6 February 1602/3 ID 131, which acts as a covering note to a letter from Arbella to Cecil and Sir John Stanhope. The enclosed letter from Arbella is now held at Hatfield House (Cecil Papers 135, fols 147-49), and has been published in the edition by Sara Jayne Steen, The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart, Women Writers in English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 134-38.

Arbella's enclosed letter has not been included in this web-edition because it is not a letter explicitly addressed to or from Bess. Nevertheless, it serves to remind us of the unstable nature of early modern letters when it comes to issues of reception. The enclosed letter is ostensibly addressed from Arbella to Cecil and Stanhope, although it seems equally intended by Arbella for her grandmother's eyes, as it complains about her unfair treatement. In this way, it is the mirror image Arbella's 'declaration' (discussed above), which although ostensibly addressed to Bess was equally intended by Arbella for the Queen's eyes. That is to say, these enclosed letters from Arbella remind us of the layered nature of early modern letters, where a letter-writer may purport to write to one particular reader in full knowledge that the letter will reach another reader or a wider readership.

Letters about Bess

There are many letters that are not to or from Bess, but which mention her, or relate to situations in which she was closely involved. There would be a good case for including these in an edition as they contribute to our knowledge of how events and Bess herself were perceived by contemporaries. They fill many of the gaps left by Bess's own letters and, in some cases, cast light directly on Bess's letters. These letters are not included here, but a project that set out to select these might sensibly start by examining the following:

  • The National Archives, SP 12 207 (a volume of documents related to Shrewsbury and Bess's marriage breakdown)
  • The National Archives, SP Scots 53 10 (a volume of documents related to Mary, Queen of Scots, during her custodianship with the Shrewsburys)
  • Lambeth Palace Library, Shrewsbury-Talbot Papers, Volume O (a volume largely of letters to and from women compiled by Nathaniel Johnston in the 1670s)
  • The Folger Shakespeare Library Cavendish-Talbot Papers

References and Further Reading

  • A. R. Braumuller, 'Editing Elizabethan Letters', TEXT 1 (1981): 185-97.
  • Danielle Clark, 'Nostalgia, Anachronism, and the Editing of Early Modern Women's Texts', Text, vol. 15 (2003): 186-209.
  • James Daybell, Women Letter-Writers in Tudor England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
  • Jonathan Gibson and Gillian Wright, 'Editing Perdita: Texts, Theories, Readers', in Women Editing/Editing Women: Early Modern Women Writers and the New Textualism, ed. by Ann Hollinshead Hurley and Chanita Goodblatt (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), pp. 155-73.
  • John Guy, My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots (HarperCollins, 2004), pp. 448-49, and also p. 441 where he says that 'Bess was a woman of lofty pride, quick jealousy, and an almost insatiable ambition for herself and her children'.
  • Anthony Ross, 'Correspondents Theory 1800/2000: Philosophical Reflections Upon Epistolary Technics and Praxis in the Analogue and Digital' (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 2012).
  • Sara Jayne Steen (ed.), The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart, Women Writers in English 1350-1850 (Oxford University Press, 1994). Steen provides further discussion of her editorial approach in 'Behind the Arras: Editing Renaissance Women's Letters', in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts: Papers of the Renaissance English Text Society, 1985-1991 (ed.) ed. by W. S. Hill (Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies / Renaissance English Text Society, 1993), pp. 229-38.
  • Stephanie Trigg, 'Speaking with the Dead', in Editing in Australia, ed. by Paul Eggert (Canberra, 1990), pp. 137-49.
  • Ernest W. Sullivan, II, 'Problems in Editing John Donne's Letters: Unreliable Primary Materials', Literature Compass 6 (2009), DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2008.00601.x.
Author(s): Alison Wiggins, April 2013

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Developed by The University of Glasgow

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'Bess of Hardwick's Letters' was developed by The University of Glasgow with technical development provided by The Humanities Research Institute at The University of Sheffield
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