An exceptionally rare and early example of Raleigh’s signature, on a memorandum concerning his preparations to travel to Ireland to suppress a major rebellion against English rule, and pre-dating his earliest surviving letter by six months.
The expedition was the turning point in Raleigh’s career. Having already served two spells in prison for violent affray, Raleigh’s likely future as the second son of a Devon country family seemed unpromising. Through the intercession of friends he received a captain’s commission in the reinforcements being sent to Munster to put down the second Desmond rebellion, where he served under Arthur Grey, Baron Grey de Wilton, the lord deputy. Having overseen the massacre of the Irish garrison at Smerwick, he discovered among the possessions of the dead a collection of secret letters, and was ordered to return to London to present his findings at court, where he quickly rose in the esteem of a dazzled Elizabeth I.
Remembered as the ‘Renaissance man par excellence’, there is perhaps no figure more evocative of the splendour and fortunes of the Elizabethan golden age other than the Virgin Queen herself.
Elizabeth’s lifelong favourite writes to two daughters of Lamoral, count of Egmont (1522-1568), the Flemish general and statesman later memorialised by Goethe and Beethoven, announcing his return to England from the Netherlands in response to the threat of an imminent Spanish invasion.
Dudley travelled to the Netherlands in 1585 as leader of the English expeditionary force sent to assist the United Provinces in their revolt against Habsburg rule. A few months after his arrival he was offered the position of governor-general of the Netherlands by the States General. The appointment was the climax of his political career but a great provocation to Elizabeth, who in a letter to Dudley professed herself ‘contemptuously used’.
Dudley’s relationship with Elizabeth has for centuries been the subject of speculation and fabulation, historical, literary and cinematic. Rumours about the exact nature of their relationship were and never can be proven, but from the very beginning of her reign it was accepted among observers that Elizabeth’s affections for him prevented her from marrying anyone else. To the extent that Elizabeth succeeded in escaping from the shadow of her father, no man proved a more decisive influence on the course of her life.
Official documents with Dudley’s signature appear occasionally for sale; this is a rare opportunity to acquire a letter written in an entirely personal capacity and a window into a man’s soul, of the kind his queen famously professed not to want opened.
The great statesman of the Elizabethan age writes to the future Archbishop of York Matthew Hutton, encouraging him in his consensual and measured approach to promoting the new religious settlement, and enclosing a gold token once given him by Edward VI, ‘my master, whom God took seasonably for his soule to be a kyng in heaven, and onseasonably from this his erthely kingdom, thereby blessing him, and scourgying us’.
Cecil was Elizabeth’s secretary of state from her accession in 1558 until 1572, when he was appointed lord high treasurer, an office which he held from 1572 until his death, despite the later emergence of a powerful rival in the Earl of Essex. The year 1577 was for Cecil one of significant personal difficulty, with ill health requiring him to spend an extended period taking the waters at Buxton. The collapse of Spanish power in the Low Countries in 1576 had excited optimism at the English court, but by the following year the tide seemed to be turning once again against the States General, culminating in the crushing defeat at Gembloux at the hands of Don John of Austria in 1578. The disaster forced Cecil to reconsider his commitment to neutrality, and to advocate instead direct military support for the forces of reformed religion.
In a court of mercurial adventurers Cecil often stood alone as a steady and guiding influence on his temperamental mistress, and has pride of place among ‘the architects and builders of the early-modern British nation state’. This remarkable letter looks both back to his service under the boy king Edward and forward to the godly nation united under Protestantism, the creation of which he saw as his life’s work
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