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By Rayne Allinson

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) despatched extra letters into extra far away kingdoms than any English monarch had sooner than, and her exchanges with an ever-growing variety of rulers display how moving conceptions of sovereignty have been made occur on paper. This booklet examines Elizabeth's correspondence with a number of major rulers, examining how her letters have been developed, drafted and awarded, the rhetorical concepts used, and the function those letters performed in facilitating diplomatic family members. Elizabeth's letters did greater than authorize diplomatic motion in another country: in general they mirrored, and occasionally even encouraged, the course of overseas policy.

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Extra resources for A Monarchy of Letters: Royal Correspondence and English Diplomacy in the Reign of Elizabeth I (Queenship and Power)

Sample text

The reading of autograph and holograph royal letters also involved different rules and expectations of behavior. The formal nature of autographs, being written in official Latin prose by clerks and authenticated by a series of bureaucratic procedures, meant that they were open to public scrutiny and were often read aloud by secretaries to the monarch. Holographs, on the other hand, were considered more private communications, intended for the monarch’s eyes alone. The Spanish ambassador Bernardino de Mendoza reported in February 1580 that Elizabeth had been greatly distressed by the French ambassador’s threat that the Duke of Anjou might publish her love letters to him in order to exonerate himself for having come to England on her empty assurances of marriage.

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon on March 17, 1596, Windebank was about to send off a letter for Cecil’s approval when suddenly Elizabeth sent for him and made him “read the co[m]mission” he had presented to her earlier that day. ”54 That Elizabeth would require a letter to be entirely rewritten for such an apparently minor change of phrasing reveals how closely she scrutinized the documents that passed her signature, not to mention how pedantic she could be when she discovered an error. Thus, while the work of many unseen authors could lie behind the royal “we,” Elizabeth’s autograph letters represented her authorial will as closely as possible.

Although these categories were sometimes blurred—for example, by the addition of a holograph postscript to an autograph letter—the presence of royal handwriting demonstrated the time, and therefore the honor, one monarch was willing to dedicate to another. ”19 Royal holographs were thus an important way of personalizing otherwise abstract relationships between states, and served to reaffirm amity between countries. Considering the diplomatic importance of royal holographs, it is surprising that so few of Elizabeth’s survive from the 1560s and 1570s.

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