Transcription Policy

XML Transcripts and Transformations

Each of the 234 letters to and from Bess in this web-edition is marked up in xml according to the Project DTD. The decision to capture the transcripts in xml has been with the intent of encoding data for immediate Project use (especially this web-edition) as well as for future user groups. In the first instance, our intention has been to create single files for each letter, which can then be output as both diplomatic and normalised versions. This multiple output capability is clearly one of the advantages of using xml for a web-edition. It also facilitates future use of the files, for example, the xml will be passed to scholars at University of Helsinki for inclusion in the Corpus of Early English Correspondence.

For the purposes of mark up, there is one xml file for each manuscript letter. The name of each xml file corresponds to each letter's ID, which is a unique, arbitrarily assigned, three-digit running number (so, letter ID 001 = file 001.xml, letter ID 002 = file 002.xml, and so forth). In addition, the letter ID appears in each file's xml header and cross-refers to the database catalogue of letters and to image files.

In order to ensure maximum ease of use and file transfer, transcriptions and encodings follow clear rules. All elements of the encoding and the values of attributes follow a consistent format. The following discussion provides an overview of the xml mark-up policy in relation to the Project's editorial rationale. However, full documentation of the structure of the xml (i.e. in which all elements, attributes and entities are documented) is recorded as an internal project report, lodged with the xml at the time of deposit. The TEI P5 guidelines have been followed where possible.

Workflow for transcription and mark-up involved a number of distinct stages. In all cases the first transcription was made from a high-quality colour digital image. (These images were acquired, either before or during the earliest stages of the project in 2008, and, where costs and permissions allow, have subsequently been incorporated into the output web-edition.) In almost all cases, the first check of each transcript was taken from the original document itself, in situ at the library, archive or repository where it is held. The second check of each transcript took place after xml mark-up and transformation, against both diplomatic and normalised versions of each letter, and was also made from the original document in situ, at the same time that physical description and scribal identifications of letters were made. Subsequent stages of proof checking were then made from images.

Workflow has ensured that, to aid accuracy, several different project team members have been involved in the capture of every letter. That is to say, to the five main stages are always undertaken by at least three different team members:

  • first transcription
  • first xml mark-up
  • physical description and scribal identification
  • first check of transformed xml
  • second check and proof checking

In the case of the 7 letters held at Belvoir Castle, the Huntington Library and the Parker Library, it has not been possible, for practical reasons, to visit these libraries to see the original documents. In these cases the transcript, physical description and scribal identification has been made from an image and we are especially grateful to these libraries for providing access to high-quality images. In the case of two more letters, ID 237 and ID 245, which are each in private ownership at unknown locations, it has only been possible to see a black-and-white image of each letter (and in each case the image is not available for reproduction in this web-edition). Therefore, both letters have been transcribed, described and scribes identified, as far as is possible, from the images available (one from the Sotheby's sale catalogue, the other from the BL RP catalogue; references are provided below).

The xml mark-up allows users to switch from the default 'normalised' view to a 'diplomatic' view of a letter (achieved by two different transformations of the xml). The normalised view presents clean transcripts, whereas the diplomatic view is closer to the original hand-written letters. In addition, the diplomatic view includes dynamic features to hide/reveal scribal identifications and later additions. To be specific, the diplomatic view differs from the normalised in the following ways:

  • the scribal highlighter functionality is available
  • notes by later librarians, owners and archivists are available (in expandable boxes)
  • line-endings are preserved
  • contractions and abbreviations are preserved
  • scribal flourishes are shown
  • 'significant space' is indicated by the editorial note: [significant space]
  • illegible deletions are indicated by the editorial note: [deletion]
  • crossed out words are included in the text (in strikethrough)
  • text added above the line is positioned above the line and with caret marks
  • superscript letters, such as appear in money and dates, appear in superscript
  • page breaks are tagged as: [page break], Next page, or Overleaf

While the normalised view may be easier to read, the diplomatic view presents information which can be revealing in various ways. For example, full access to detailed features of writing (such as punctuation, abbreviations and contractions) can help us to distinguish between Bess's various scribes; and access to features such as the use of space (discussed in more detail below) can tell us about the sender-recipient relationship. Furthermore, access to features such as crossing-out can allow us to track a letter-writer's process of revision and re-drafting, and therefore the thought process and shifts of attitude involved as he or she struggled to find just the right words, such as in the letters from Arbella Stuart ID 141, the Lords of the Council ID 137 and Elizabeth I ID 221.

Letter Structure

Rhetorical structure

The linguistic structure of the letter (rather than its chronological or visual structure) is prioritised in the hierarchy of the xml. That is, the textual content of each letter is defined within the top-level of tagging that individually defines the occurrence of: superscription(s), the letter text, the continuation of letter text in the margin or overleaf, subscription(s), signature(s), postscript(s), endorsement(s), contemporary addition(s) and later addition(s). Discussion of the definition of each of these parts of the letter is provided in The Language of Early Modern Letters > The Parts of a Letter, along with references and further reading.

These editorial tags (which appear as mouseovers) distinguish between the different functions of different segments of writing on the page. They therefore aid reading, and are necessary in an edition which converts hand-writing to type-face and therefore effaces visual cues such as change of scribe, changes of ink and position of text on the page.

Editorial disambiguation is especial relevant in the cases where a letter incorporates layers of writing. For example, the letter sent from Henry Cavendish to his mother Bess, c.1570, which was then re-sent from Bess to her husband Shrewsbury, features two superscriptions and an endorsement on the address leaf and these are in three different hands ID 009. To take another example, the letter from Richard Cavendish and Lady Mary Sidney to Bess, 19 November c.1576, which was subsequently forwarded by Bess to her husband Shrewsbury, features a postscript added at the time of writing the letter, followed by Bess's additional notes and instructions for re-delivery of the letter, and a total of three signatures ID 115. In this case, the editorial labels and the tagging of hands clarifies the relationships between the different writers and segments of text.

Chronological structure

In addition to the main textual segments of a letter, almost every letter had notes added at various stages by different scribal hands. The tagging used in this web-edition is designed to disambiguate between notes which can be associated with the letter's earliest production and reception circumstances, as opposed to notes which can be associated with the later afterlife of the letter. We find across Bess's letters that:

  • There are notes added by the sender at the last moment, immediately before the letter was sent. For example, an after-thought might be added to the outside of the letter-packet once it had already been locked, such as Shrewsbury's request to Bess to send him his man Acres as he can no longer be spared ID 079.
  • There are notes added by the recipient or by his/her secretary once the letter had been received. For example, endorsements that typically take the form of an administrative note, often a memorandum that remarks on the letter's date and sender, were added at the time of receipt, such as Richard Bagot's endorsement 'the Old Contes of Salop lettres to me' ID 001. In some cases, the endorsement can reveal the recipient's view of a letter, such as the comment Bess added to a letter from her husband Shrewsbury: 'of small affecte' ID 071.
  • There are notes by a later owners, which could be added at any point up to the present day. For example, the marginalia on the address leaf and overleaf of ID 107.

The general policy here is to transcribe all writing that appears. This inclusive decision is in order to capture in full information about a letter's production and reception circumstances, which includes its afterlife (even down to old foliation numbers). The one exception is the copious scrawl of Nathanial Johnston, which is often illegible and has not been transcribed in full. For those interested, it can be seen extensively in the image of ID 191, where it appears all over fols 2r and 2v of the bifolium sheet, and ID 195, where it appears on fol. 2r of the bifolium sheet.

For the purpose of disambiguation, notes and contemporary additions other than endorsements may be tagged as any one of the following:

  • "Later editorial note" (i.e. notes added later by a later reader, such as biographical information or a summary of the letter)
  • "Marginalia" (i.e. notes or contemporary additions which relate to a specific line of the letter, which is indicated)
  • "List" (i.e. notes or contemporary additions formatted as a list, which may have been added by the recipient of the letter and may or may not relate to the content of the letter, for example, ID 096 and ID 099)
  • "Doodle" (i.e. pen trials, scribbles, sums, rough notes)
  • "Old foliation" (i.e. foliation added by an owner or archivist)
  • "Old item number" (i.e. an item number added by an owner or archivist)
  • "Old foliation/item number" (i.e. a note that could be foliation or an item number added by an owner or archivist)
  • "Foliation" (i.e. the current foliation)
  • "Item number" (i.e. the current item number or shelf mark)

Visual structure (layout and mise en page)

Most of the letters to and from Bess of Hardwick are written on a folded bifolium sheet of paper and, most commonly, the letter starts and ends on folio 1r and, once the letter is folded for sending, folio 2v becomes the outer part of the address leaf usually featuring a superscription (further discussion and description of layout is provided in The Material Features of Early Modern Letters > Folds and Creases). However, there are many variations in terms of paper use and choice: some letters are written on a single sheet, some on two interleaved bifolium sheets, sometimes the letter extends across folios 1v and 2r and there are various ways that writers position text within the available space. In some cases, such as draft letters, spatial layout is rather chaotic, such as ID 137.

This edition does not attempt to replicate all features of the visual layout of the original hand-written letter. Certain features of layout are recorded (line breaks, section breaks or the continuation of the letter in the margin), and these are visible in the diplomatic view. Position on the page is recorded for particular segments of text, and can be viewed in the tagging (in the mouseovers), such as for subscriptions and signatures. For example, the left- and centre-aligned split subscription used by Bess's Scribe B in a letter to Elizabeth I (to register deference), is tagged: 'your Majesties' tagged '(left)', 'most bounden faythfull seruant and subject' tagged '(middle)' ID 129.

In addition, certain physical boundaries of the page are recorded (page break, overleaf or next page), which, in some cases, can impact on the meaning of a letter. For example, the letter written on 7 June 1575, from Shrewsbury to Bess, is in two parts: the first part is for semi-public circulation, the second, concealed on the overleaf, is for Bess's eyes only. So, in the first part, while addressed to his wife, Shrewsbury gives his official answer to the complaints made by the men of the High Peak; then in the second part, written on the overleaf, Shrewsbury tells Bess that he has written the first part in order that she may show it to the men, so they can see for themselves how little he cares about their complaints (she 'may send my lettar to them to see how lyttell I Acomt of ther complentes' ID 074).

'Significant Space'

We know from the analyses of scholars such as Jonathan Gibson that white space could be used for rhetorical effect in early modern letters. A large portion of white space, between the end of the body-text of a letter and the signature, especially where the signature crouches at the very bottom corner of the page, can register deference, distance, politeness or humility. However, the presence, and exact nature, of such an intention cannot always be confidently determined for every letter. Part of the difficulty comes because the amount of white space that functions as 'significant' is relative. It is worth observing some of the different areas of blank space found across Bess's letters, the nature of which indicates some of issues and challenges from an editorial point of view.

We can observe the case of the three letters from Bess's half-sister Elizabeth Wingfield. The first was written, in Wingfield's own hand, 21 October c.1568. It is a short letter and about half the page remains blank below the letter-text. The signature is placed low down in the available space, indented to the left, although we can observe that the signature is not placed at the very bottom page ID 096. The question, then, would be: does the space below the signature code meaning and should it therefore be tagged and recorded? It is difficult to say for sure whether Elizabeth Wingfield's decision, here in this letter, to leave some space below the signature was a casual or a self-conscious one.

The next two letters from Elizabeth Wingfield, 2 January c.1576 and 8 December c.1585, again written in her own hand, are both much longer than the first. In fact, both fill almost the entire page, which means that in each case there is only a few centimetres of space remaining below the letter-text ID 097 and ID 098. Despite the limited amount of paper remaining, Elizabeth Wingfield still makes a point of showing space. The quantity of space Wingfield leaves is necessarily constrained by the room available. Yet, it would be difficult to argue that in the first letter (ID 096) Wingfield shows greater deference than in these later two based upon an actual measurement, in centimetres, of the space left. Rather, it seems to be that in both of the later letters she is registering politeness and hierarchy through space, and she uses what is available.

To put it simply, we must allow that what counts as significant space is relative to the space available. Where space is limited, humility and deference can nonetheless be gestured at. In these cases, the gesture of using the space available may well stand for just as high a degree of humility and deference as where more space is available. We cannot argue that Wingfield's second letter is somehow less polite or less deferential than her first based on the space - which reminds us that to record space by a measurement in centimetres would be potentially misleading.

A second issue raised by 'significant space' concerns its context within the larger visual scheme of a letter. As an example, it is worth considering the letter from Bess's 'bad son' Henry Cavendish, who wrote to his mother on 31 December 1605 to send New Year's wishes ID 011. Henry's letter is itself short and formulaic and its communicative function is largely expressed through visual appearance and layout. We can observe that Henry writes in a presentation-quality hand, indents his signature and subscription, includes calligraphic space-filler lines and places his signature as low as possible in the right-hand corner of the page. Together, these combined features of the execution are designed to emphasise politeness, humility and deference. That is, for high impact, Henry has combined the use of white space with other visual features, such as calligraphic space-filler lines and presentation-quality handwriting. The question they raise, from an editorial point of view, is which of these visual features should be recorded and how? It again reminds us that to record space by a simple measurement in centimetres would be to omit the full context of the gesture.

Based on examination of letters such as these by Elizabeth Wingfield and Henry Cavendish, then, the decision has been made not to include measurements for space. At the stage of data capture, measurements were recorded (for margins and for space between the letter, subscription, signature and letter edges), but these have not been output in the current web-edition as they are potentially misleading when extracted from the full visual context of the material letter. Instead, the judgement as to whether space is 'significant' has been an editorial one: 'significant space' is tagged where it is identified, and output in this web-edition in the diplomatic view as: [significant space]. Not surprisingly, there have been disagreements between Project team members over when to use the significant-space tagging; it reminds us that the interpretation of the meaning of a letter is partly in the eye of the reader, both then and now.

Spelling and Punctuation

Early modern English is a non-standard language and each individual writer had his or her own personal spelling system. Transcriptions in this edition follow the original spelling. Yet, while this is an 'original-spelling edition', it is inevitable that certain graphemic and allographic features are effaced during the process of converting early modern handwriting into modern type-face. The following features indicate what is preserved in this particular original-spelling edition, and what is lost. A faithful reproduction of the orthography of each letter brings us closer to the experience of reading early modern handwritten letters. The information that is lost (while it may seem minute) can relate to the communicative impact of the letter, or can be relevant for scribal profiling, or can provide information about the type and level of a writer's literacy.

Alphabet, numerals and special characters

Transcriptions are in the modern 26-character standard Latin alphabet and most basic keyboard characters. Use of Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3 and so on) follows the manuscript and where Roman numerals (i, ii, iii/iij, or I, II, III and so on) appear these are followed. Typically, for dates, Roman numerals are used for the date and Arabic for the year, although there are variations. Roman numerals may also appear at other points in the letters; for example, William St Loe sends 'x thowsand thanckes' (i.e. 'ten thousand thanks') ID 059.

Entities are defined for & [ampersand], § [symbol], ° [degree sign], ^ [caret] and ~ [tile]. There are a few examples of the eszett graph for double-s spellings (for example, 'message' in line 4 of ID 128) which are transcribed as < ss >. The use of a 'y'-shaped fossil thorn has simply been transcribed as < y > (a form very common for words such as 'yt' THAT, 'ye' THE and so on). The use of the 'z'-shaped yogh graph in Alexander Gordon's Scots letter has been transcribed as < z > ID 029.


Distinction is retained between < u, v >, < i, j > and initial use of < ff >. However, further allographic distinctions are not made, i.e. the transcripts in this web-edition are by grapheme rather than allograph. So, no distinctions are made between different letter-forms (allographs) such as single-compartment italic-'a' and double-compartment secretary-'a', which are both transcribed here as < a >. Likewise, short italic-'s' and sigma-shaped secretary-'s' are both transcribed here as < s >. Moreover, no distinctions are made between one form of a grapheme that is plainly executed and another executed with decorative calligraphic flourishes.

Graphemic function

The distribution of letter-forms in early modern writing is different from present-day English conventions. In fact, it is possible to distinguish up to five types of graphemes in early modern English: upper case, lower case, initial, medial and end position in a word. For this edition, transcriptions record the first two types (upper and lower case) as they appear in the manuscript, and represent the latter three with lower case letters instead of marking them up specially.

For example, the scribes of Bess's letters often choose between < c > and < C > according to word position, rather than according to grammatical function as in present-day English. So we find upper-case < C > in the word-initial position but not necessarily at the start of new sentences or sense units. This distinction has been retained in this web-edition.

To take another example, some of Bess's correspondents use < i > for the first person singular pronoun, rather than < I > which is the convention in present-day English. This web-edition retains the distinction; for example, in the autograph letter from Frances Cobham ID 015.

To take another example, the scribes of Bess's letters often use long-s and short-s in complementary distribution, whereby long-s appears in the word-initial position and short-s in the medial or terminal position. However, in this web-edition these forms are both are transcribed as < s >.

Punctuation and word division

Punctuation and word division follows the original manuscript as far as possible. Punctuation marks used in the transcriptions are: full stop, comma, colon, semi colon, apostrophe, quotation marks, forward slash, brackets, the double hyphen or equals sign (i.e. =), as well as the entities (already listed above) for ampersand, tilde, the degree sign and the flourish entity for a scribal flourish. These punctuation marks may be used by early modern writers in various combinations, and the transcripts here follow the use as it appears in the manuscript, such as the superscription to ID 014:

To the R. honorable my espetiall
good Ladye the Countess dowager
of Shrewsberye giue this./..
at Hardwick --.//=.

Punctuation position and size is standardised, so that there is no distinction made between mid-line, subscript and regular punctuation, or between different styles and sizes of comma or slash. Editorial judgement is used where necessary, such as to distinguish between a long comma and a short slash, or between a full stop and a pen rest. Transcribing to the limits of the character set often means having to make decisions between two keyboard characters when, in reality, the actual mark in the manuscript resembles something in between the two. For example, the punctuation marks that are somewhere between < , > and < / >.

Where a sentence ends in a forward slash (which may but usually does not indicate a line ending) this is transcribed as it appears. The same forward slash is used for scribal space-filler lines, which appear either below the text (such as to mark white space) or continuing along the line (such as end-line fillers). Punctuation used in abbreviations and contractions is marked-up in the xml so as to facilitate transformation in both diplomatic and normalised versions of the web-edition.


Abbreviated words are marked up so as to facilitate different transformations in the normalised and diplomatic versions of this web-edition. Although certain abbreviations use special marks (such as macron, final -es ligature, elaborated p-graphs for 'per', 'pro' or 'par') no special symbols or allographic forms are used in the transcripts of this web-edition, beyond superscript letters and superscript punctuation marks where they occur. Signatures containing initials are never expanded, as signatures are considered iconic of self-representation and therefore exceptional cases.


Spellings that are expanded editorially are modernised and standardised, which includes use of apostrophes. So, the expanded form will use apostrophes according to present-day English usage, whereas the non-expanded form will follow the manuscript (where apostrophes are usually not used). While this policy is necessary for consistency across the corpus of letters, it does result in some visible fractures (between editorial writing and scribal writing) in the normalised view of certain individual letters.

For example, in Gilbert Talbot's letter of 5 November 1570, sent jointly to his father Shrewsbury and his step-mother and mother-in-law Bess, he uses the possessive form of HONOUR as a contraction in the main letter but written out in full in the subscription. Therefore, in the normalised view of the transcript of this letter, we have the editorial-expanded form with an apostrophe in the main letter (such as, 'your honours' commaundement', which is an editorial expansion of 'yor ho. commaundement') but Gilbert's own form, without an apostrophe, appears in the subscription ('Yor honors moste humble and obedient sonne') ID 171.

Tornadoes, flourishes and anomalous marks

To covert handwriting into type-face inevitably results in loss of detail. For example, in this web-edition, the flourish entity is used for a wide-range of different types of pen-work flourishes, which range from the thickly drawn tornadoes that Gilbert Talbot regularly adds below his superscriptions on the outside of letter-packets, as in ID 166; the decorative triple-looped swirl that Sir William Cavendish adds between the initials of his signature, as in ID 013; and the enigmatic knot with which Shrewsbury always completes his signature, as in ID 079. One puzzle that remains, for the moment, unsolved is the unidentified symbol, similar to the Greek letter phi, that appears below Bess's signature several times. The symbol has not been transcribed, but it can be seen in the images for letters ID 179, ID 180, ID 181, ID 185 and ID 186, all from the from the Shrewsbury-Talbot Papers.


Scope of the issue

The letters from Bess feature numerous different individual scribal hands in a bewildering variety of different combinations. A letter may be written entirely in Bess's own hand, such as ID 186; or may be entirely in the hand of a scribe, including the signature, such as ID 100. More commonly we find that the various parts of a letter are shared (in a variety of way) between Bess, her scribes and co-writers; so the letter may be partly in her own hand and partly in the hand of a co-sender, such as ID 188; or partly in her own hand and partly by a scribe, such as ID 002; or may feature her own hand combined with more than one scribe, such as ID 134 (hands of Bess, Scribes B and C), or with a scribe and co-sender, such as ID 190 (hands of Bess, Shrewsbury and an unknown scribe). The situation is further complicated because Bess used a wide range of different scribes during the course of her life. Some were professionally trained secretaries, others were literate members of her household or family, and whereas some can be identified, others remain anonymous to us. The full variety of combinations can be browsed using the filter by handwriting.

Further examples of different scribal hands are found across the letters written to Bess. These letters to Bess are from 69 different correspondents, although there are more than 69 different hands across these letters. In many cases, Bess's correspondents wrote to her in their own hand, but we also find individuals who wrote to Bess using a scribe. In addition to these scribal hands are the hands of later scribes, readers, owners, librarians, antiquaries and archivists who added endorsements, annotations, folio numbers, item numbers, biographical notes, doodles and scribbles. Some of these added notes that can be associated with the earliest reception environments of the letter, such as endorsements. Others are part of the afterlife of the letter and were added much later, such as the annotations by Nathaniel Johnston in the seventeenth century, Joseph Hunter in the nineteenth century or by owners and archivists up to the present days. A very conservative estimate would be 100 different scribal hands across the letters, although the figure may be nearer 150 (it is difficult to give a more precise figure because the hands of many professionally trained scribes look very similar, and some only add a small amount of text, such as an endorsement, which would be tagged as being in the hand of an 'unknown scribe').

All of these additions and switches of scribal hands are captured in this web-edition, and the distinctions are made by use of tagging in the xml mark-up and use of the scribal highlighter functionality. That is to say, the tagging allows for the production of layered transcripts, where the hands of different writers can be distinguished and disambiguated, and where later additions can be hidden or revealed.

Implications of the issue

The use of scribes is perhaps the most important visual and material feature of Bess's letters. The language of Bess's letters, and of her correspondents, differs substantially depending upon the scribe used. Moreover, the language varies at a number of linguistic levels: spelling, syntax and morphology, vocabulary and rhetorical forms and features. These linguistic implications are discussed in further detail in The Language of Early Modern Letters > Whose Language? Letters Written by Scribes.

The decision to use a scribe or not, as well as the choice of scribe, also pertains to interpersonal factors and conventions of politeness and to the type of letter. Certain letters required a high degree of security or intimacy and therefore only an individual from the sender's inner circle would be used as a scribe and may also act as bearer. Or, there are certain letters of a legal or business nature where it is most appropriate for Bess to direct the writing of a clerk who used a professional hand and set of conventions. It is not that she was not capable of producing these letters herself, it is that as countess or dowager countess she gained authority through different forms of distancing, and through directing scribes and bearers. These inter-personal and communicative implications are discussed in further detail in The Material Features of Early Modern Letters > Handwriting.

Scribal identifications

Given there are so many scribes and hands across Bess's correspondence, one of the tasks of the Project has been to distinguish between scribal and autograph writing and to identify individual scribes. Our methodology has drawn on the procedures developed by scholars of late medieval manuscripts, in particular, the methodologies established by LALME and more recently employed by the team of the Medieval Scribes Project (references are below). Crucially, it is a methodology that utilises linguistic questionnaires and which combines both linguistic and palaeographic profiling. As it is not enough simply to distinguish between 'scribal' and 'autograph' letters, we have tagged the individual parts of each letter to indicated the scribal hand. As we can often track Bess's scribes across her letters, we have identified scribes where possible. For example, scribes identified in more than one letter from Bess are allocated as Scribe A, Scribe B and so on. Scribe C can be identified as Bess's secretary from the 1590s, Timothy Pusey, who also features as hand 11 in the tutorial and is discussed there.

Handwriting and Legibility

The letters to and from Bess illustrate the wide array of contemporary styles of handwriting, in secretary, italic and mixed scripts. Individual scribes and writers display a range of quality, ability and effort when it comes to proficiency with the pen, from rather loose and unpolished hands, to those with attractive calligraphic execution, to the tight regularity of professionally trained secretaries.

There is no attempt here to tag handwriting in order to identify it as being either secretary script or italic script; these scripts tend to exist on a spectrum (a discussion of which, with examples from the letters, is provided in the tutorial). Nor has their been any attempt to include palaeographical descriptions of individual hands or of features such as changes of ink, colour of ink or bleed-through. Such features tend to be problematic to interpret when abstracted from the wider visual context of the whole letter. Instead, colour images have been included wherever possible - and these images constantly remind us of the importance of the visual impact of a letter.

For example, we have a number of letters to Bess where politeness is partly signalled by neat calligraphy (such as from Bess's eldest son Henry Cavendish ID 011 or from her young granddaughter Arbella Stuart ID 106). Other letters, such as those in the terrible handwriting of her husband Shrewsbury, tell us about Bess's ability to read even the most malformed secretary hand, and about the physical challenges her husband experienced with writing for himself (something which cannot be separated from their dual epistolary activities). The visual impact of Bess's own, grand, iconic signature is perhaps the most vivid reminder of the importance of seeing her letters in their original handwritten form, and her signature is discussed in Bess of Hardwick's Life in 12 Letters > 'Good Besse': Bess's second husband, Sir William Cavendish, writes to his wife, c.1550s and The Language of Early Modern Letters > The Parts of a Letter.

One of the challenges, for this web-edition, has been the remarkable number of different hands found across Bess's correspondence, which have demanded a high level of skill and competency, in transcription and mark up expertise, among the Project team. It has not only been necessary to decipher each individual hand, but also to consistently apply the transcription policy and conform to the scheme of xml mark-up across such a diversity of hands.

Perhaps the most obvious challenge, for transcription of Bess's correspondence, are the exceptionally difficult hands that appear in this set of letters. They include the notorious scrawl of Bess's forth husband, George, sixth earl of Shrewsbury. Less well known, but also a trial for transcribes, is the hand of Bess's brother James Hardwick. Some of the particular difficulties involved in the transcription of these two hands are outlined in the tutorial.


The policy throughout this web-edition is to aim to reproduce words and spellings as they appear on the page in the original letters, which includes the decision not to emend errors or irregularities or to attempt to restore them to a perceived 'more correct' version. While it is a decision that may be controversial, there are a number of reasons and justifications for this rationale.

First, most of Bess's correspondence consists of sent versions of letters. That is, we are not dealing here with literary letters that were being prepared for publication, in which case we might want to produce a critical edition, one that reconstructs a text closest to the author's original based on multiple extant variant versions. With (in most cases) only a sent version of each letter, there are usually no other copies or drafts for comparison and where selection between variants would be a possibility.

Second, there is a fine line between a genuine unintended error and a legitimate spelling variant in early modern English. Moreover, variations of all kinds – whether they are slips or represent characteristic features of an individual's personal spelling system – can be revealing in various ways. For example, Bess and Shrewsbury's tendency to 'h-drop' on occasion in their writing can provide information about use of this linguistic form, which was later to become stigmatised, at the highest social levels. To take another example, Bess's tendency to drop final consonants or to add < r > where it would not be found in present-day English, represent features that may, or may not, map onto pronunciation but where the information helps us to build a picture of her own personal use of early modern English.

Third, where a form is clearly an uncorrected error, it provides us with information about the abilities of the writer or the circumstances of writing. For example, in Shrewsbury's letter to Bess, 8 August 1574, he writes the word 'I' twice: 'All the cylvar plate I I mene trenchares' ID 073. The repetition of 'I' is clearly an uncorrected error, but it tells us something about the level of informality or the haste with which his letter was written and checked (or not checked). These kinds of slips are part of the pictures of Shrewsbury's writing, which is characterised by a combination of grandeur and a painful arthritic condition.

In cases of uncorrected errors such as Shrewsbury's repetition of 'I', the error is allowed to stand but is indicated to be the manuscript form (rather than a transcription error) by the editorial notation: [sic]. To take another example: Gilbert Talbot writes a letter from Padua to report on his travels through Italy, in 1570, and he makes a small error: 'and so to Genua: and from that Cytty dyrected our iourney to Venyce, betwyxt wth (sic) tow townes lyeth the greatest bredthe of al Italy' ID 226. Gilbert's mistake is to confuse two similar-looking secretary-script graphs, 't' for 'c'; i.e. he writes 'wth' (the abbreviation for 'with') in his letter rather than 'wch' (the abbreviation for 'which'). It is a classic visual error to make whilst copying, one which suggests that Gilbert's letter was a fair copy written out from a draft.

Fourth, deletions and words struck through have been recorded in the transcription; they can be hidden in the normalised view and revealed in the diplomatic view. Again (and as discussed above in relation to the differences between diplomatic and normalised views of transcripts), these can provide information about the writer's attitude to error or his or her level of literate skill. The ability either to view or hide these is one of the advantages of an xml-based edition.

References and Further Reading

  • An image of ID 237 is available in Sotheby's sale catalogue, 26 June 1974, item 2840, pp. 12-13.
  • A photocopy of ID 245 is available in the British Library (BL), reference: RP 120. The BL's RP catalogue is a paper catalogue available in the Rare Books Room that contains copies of exported manuscripts deposited under government export regulations. The BL cannot supply copies of these manuscripts or give permission for their publication.
  • Michael Benskin and M. L. Samuels, So meny people longages and tonges: Philological Essays in Scots and Mediaeval English Presented to Angus McIntosh (Edinburgh, privately printed, 1981).
  • Braunmuller, A. R., 'Accounting for Absence: The Transcription of Space' in New Ways of Looking at Old Texts: Papers of the Renaissance English Text Society, 1985-89, ed. by W. Speed Hill, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 107 (Binghamton, 1993), pp. 47-56.
  • Extensible Markup Language (XML) [external site].
  • Jonathan Gibson, 'Significant Space in Manuscript Letters', The Seventeenth Century, 12 (1997): 1-9.
  • Simon Horobin, 'The Criteria for Scribal Attribution: Dublin, Trinity College MS 244 Reconsidered', Review of English Studies, n.s., 60 (2009): 371-81
  • Imogen Marcus, 'An Investigation into the Language of the Letters of Bess of Hardwick (c.1527-1608)', unpublished PhD thesis (University of Glasgow, 2012).
  • Angus McIntosh et al, 'General Introduction' to A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, Vol. 1 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1986), pp. 1-28
  • Sonja Neef, Jose van Dijck and Eric Ketelaar (eds), Sign Here: Handwriting in the Age of New Media, Transformations in Art and Culture (Amsterdam University Press, 2007).
  • Oxygen XML Editor [external site].
  • M. B. Parkes, Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).
  • Jeremy J. Smith, 'Ideology and Spelling in Sixteenth-Century England', Il confronto letterario, 40 (Supple.) (2004): 11-24.
  • Alan Stewart and Heather Wolfe, Letterwriting in Renaissance England (The Folger Shakespeare Library, 2004).
  • TEI P5 Guidelines [external site].
  • Anke Timmermann, Alison Wiggins and Graham Williams, 'AHRC Letters of Bess of Hardwick Project: Transcription and Mark-up Policy', unpublished internal reports 1-5, University of Glasgow, September 2007 - February 2012.
  • Sue Walker, 'The Manners of the Page: Prescription and Practice in the Visual Organisation of Correspondence', Huntington Library Quarterly, 66, 3/4, Studies in the Cultural History of Letter Writing (2003): 307-29.
Author(s): Alison Wiggins, April 2013

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