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Carlo M. Bajetta, Guillaume Coatalen, and Jonathan Gibson, eds., Elizabeth I's Foreign Correspondence
by Tom Lockwood

Bajetta, Carlo M., Guillaume Coatalen, and Jonathan Gibson, eds. Elizabeth I’s Foreign Correspondence: Letters, Rhetoric, and Politics. Queenship and Power. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. xxvi + 269 pp. ISBN: 978-1137448408. $95.00 cloth.


This fine collection of essays, edited by an international team of scholars, nicely balances the range of its contributors and the spread of its multi-lingual contents. It is both geographically and practically structured. The single essay in Part I, by Angela Andreani, establishes a context for and provides a usefully synoptic account of what the chapter’s subtitle calls “The Production of Diplomatic Letters at Court” (3-26). Parts II-IV thereafter study the different destinations, as we might see them, of the letters produced in England: two chapters in Part II address the Queen’s French correspondence; four chapters in Part II address her Italian correspondence; and three chapters more dispersedly in Part IV explore her correspondence with Germany, the East and Ireland. The chapters in Parts II-IV are, across these different geographies, of different kinds also: two present edited texts and analyses of previously unpublished holograph letters—six in French to the Duke of Anjou, edited by Guillaume Coatalen and Jonathan Gibson as chapter 2, and three in Italian to Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, edited by Carlo M. Bajetta as chapter 5. Chapters 9 and 10 also include edited transcriptions of Elizabeth’s letters, Rayne Allinson’s ending with Elizabeth’s letter to Wanli, Emperor of China, and Monica Santini’s with two letters of 1599 from the Queen to the Earl of Essex. It would have been lovely to have seen more than the two images of letters that are crisply reproduced among the five figures, but nonetheless the standard of the contributions to the volume is high, and the collection has been cleanly and carefully produced.

In her chapter, Andreani brilliantly and scrupulously tracks the versions of one letter from Elizabeth to Queen Anne of Denmark across four modern repositories and through the multiple stages of its Early Modern production, revision and retention. Andreani shows how the text of this letter interacted in multiple ways with a dense and detailed network of individuals and institutions, and in doing so she establishes one of the dominant modes of the collection as a whole. Four documents now contain texts of Elizabeth’s letter, which was produced in London in 1595. The copy that was despatched to Edinburgh (where it is now Edinburgh University, MS De.I.12.9) retains still the Queen’s holograph sign manual, which has survived the damage otherwise suffered by the document, but may in some ways be the least interesting of the surviving witnesses. This is because, in Andreani’s account, the circumstances of the production of the letter in its different documentary versions are fascinatingly meshed with the relationships she charts across the archive with what she calls “‘in-house’ correspondence” (8): the covering notes, records of action taken already, and notes for actions to be completed in the future, that accompanied the outgoing correspondence as it passed through the members and mechanisms of the royal court.

This detailed case study of a single letter is set within a larger account of the period from 1590 to 1596, between Walsingham’s death and the appointment of Cecil as Secretary of State, which Andreani nicely calls a “peculiar period” in the court’s history (3). Something of the representative non-representativeness of these “peculiar” examples is caught again at the close of her chapter. Andreani writes there, not quite dispiritedly, that “although it is possible to trace some patterns … in practice the production of letters was dependent on individuals, and procedures might be very varied” (17). If we are now accustomed to the uniformity of non-uniformity in print—where, in D.F. McKenzie’s famous phrase, “all printing houses were alike in being different”—Andreani’s chapter is a fine reminder that, as each case in manuscript goes about being its own given case and the business of remaining healthily resistant to generalization, there is still a huge amount to be learned from sharp, engaged and meticulous attention paid to the peculiarities and particularities of individual examples.[1] 

Not all of the chapters that make up Elizabeth I’s Foreign Correspondence are as archivally and materially founded as this. Coatalen and Gibson in their texts and analysis of the six holograph letters from the Queen to the Duke of Anjou (27-62), and Gibson in his subsequent exploration of how “Familiarity and Materiality” interact in these letters (63-89), do keep close to the people, pen, ink and paper of this correspondence. But the three chapters, for example, that in different ways gloss and support Bajetta’s chapter 5, “Three Holograph Italian Letters from Elizabeth I to Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor: Texts and Analysis” (115-50), provide complementary lenses through which to focus those letters as data. Allesandra Petrina, in writing about “Elizabethan Learning and Using Italian” (93-114), looks again at the things that Elizabeth learned from, and the ways she learned from, her early tutors, with a particular focus on the place and contexts of Italian books in her library. Gianmario Raimondi, by contrast, uses his essay “to attempt a descriptive profile of the Italian used by Elizabeth” (151), reading not so much the documents as their language with a sharp eye for detail and a precise technical vocabulary—of Tuscan diphthongization and Florentine anophonesis, of protonic i and e and Palatalization of tonic -a-— into which readers whose specialisms are in Early Modern manuscripts or diplomatic history (say) might have welcomed a slightly more forgiving immersion. Giuliana Iannaccaro’s chapter on “Elizabeth’s Italian Rhetoric” in two of the three letters offers a “close reading” of their “figurative language” (176), which is particularly rewarding in its attention to the potential overlaps and points of transition between English and Italian usage and implication.

Rounding out the collection, the chapters in Part IV range more widely. In his chapter, “Elizabeth’s Correspondence with the Protestant Princes of the Empire, 1558-86,” David Scott Gehring argues that Elizabeth’s correspondence should be read as a successful, and sincerely pan-Protestant, attempt “to maintain relatively consistent and amicable relations with a diverse and fractious group” (200-01). Rayne Allinson discusses the letter from Elizabeth to the Emperor of China taken—and ignominiously brought back, undelivered—by George Weymouth in 1602; and Monica Santini returns to two of Elizabeth’s letters to Essex in Ireland to argue again for the detail and nuance of the processes of “complex co-production” that, even after a letter had passed “between the queen, her main Secretary of State, and the clerks of the Signet Office,” extended outwards into “the copying, archiving, and circulation of her letters” (238-39).

A number of the contributors to Elizabeth I’s Foreign Correspondence quote or gesture towards the queen’s own unhappy estimation of what she called in a letter written in the last year of her life “my skrating hand” (see 28, 219).[2] Together these essays—in the primary material they make available for future study, and the valuable contexts for, and commentary on, those materials that they have already supplied—extend an invitation to look further and harder at these and other letters, their language and rhetoric, and the politics in which they were engaged.


Tom Lockwood
University of Birmingham 

[1] D.F. McKenzie, Printers of the Mind: Some Notes on Bibliographical Theories and Printing-House Practices (n.p.: n.p., 1969), rpt. in Making Meaning: “Printers of the Mind” and Other Essays, Peter D. McDonald and Michael F. Suarez, S.J., eds. (Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2002), 13-85, at 62.

[2] “Skrating” survives, in H.R. Woudhuysen’s gloss via OED, from an “obsolete form of the verb ‘to scrat’ or scratch”: “The Queen’s Own Hand: A Preliminary Account” in Elizabeth I and the Culture of Writing, Peter Beal and Grace Ioppolo, eds. (London: British Library, 2007), 1-27 (24).


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Cite as:

Tom Lockwood, "Carlo M. Bajetta, Guillaume Coatalen, and Jonathan Gibson, eds., Elizabeth I's Foreign Correspondence," Spenser Review 45.3.4 (Winter 2016). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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