The Writing Process: The Material Features of Union’s Letter-Book

Close material analysis of the physical features of the letter-book sheds light on the context and use of the item that now stands as Unton’s primary written legacy, and confirms that the ambassador himself was involved in the production of the letter-book (as opposed to the book being a compilation by later antiquarians or archivists). Attending to the various copies of his letters both within and beyond the book further reveals the nature of administrative production during the embassy, and reveals the ambassador’s careful management of his epistolary self-presentation. Finally, the fact that multiple copies exist points to posthumous memorialising of Unton. I have located three extant contemporary copies of his letter-book, at the British Library, Bodleian Library, and Folger Library.12 The collection also exists as an eighteenth-century scribal copy, also at the Folger, and in the aforementioned nineteenth-century print edition, which is available via the Internet Archive and via print-on-demand publishers (as is the case with many out-of-copyright volumes). In addition to the book, a series of loose copies and drafts of Unton’s letters survive in the British Library’s Cotton collection.13 The letter-book comprises outgoing letters to major political figures in the domestic government, alongside a smaller number of letters received and a few transcribed enclosures. In the British Library manuscript, there are 132 letters from Unton, 88 received letters, and 18 other items. Of these, 11 are not letters, such as Unton’s instructions and articles of treaties, and seven are letters from the Queen to people other than Unton, such as Henry IV. Around half of the letters are to or from Burghley (110 of 227 letters), while the other prominent correspondents are Robert Cecil (33), the Queen (22), the Earl of Essex (17), Chancellor Hatton (14), and Thomas Heneage (13).14 It therefore falls within the ‘comprehensive style’ of letter-book discussed in the previous chapter: it is a reasonably comprehensive collection of letters written and received throughout the embassy, copied out one after another to form a discrete tome, rather than a highly selective collection of items concerning a particular subject or occasion like those created by Robert Beale or William Herle.15

The manuscript in the British Library is most likely Unton’s own letterbook. The first piece of evidence for this is that there is marginalia by Unton, which also indicates that he actively consulted the volume, while abroad or retrospectively after the embassy. Unton’s distinctive hand and orthography are seen in a small marginal annotation, which reads: ‘of the K: put-tinge The Bishappes in hope That hee would bee come a catholyke;’ - a key concern and one that proved justified in 1593.16 Occasional and easily missed marginal markings such as hash marks, parallel lines, and brackets indicate the reader’s engagement, though unlike the autograph comment this activity cannot be traced more precisely.17 The second clear indication that this volume originated in Unton’s embassy is that one of the primary scribal hands is that of Thomas Edmondes, Unton’s embassy secretary and later an ambassador in his own right.18 The first hand (Hl), which I take to be Edmondes’, writes the first 115 pages, before a second scribal hand (H2) takes over.19 The first two letters copied into the letter-book by H2 are from Unton to Burghley and from Unton to the Queen, both dated 16

February 1591/2, and their texts and titles refer to the fact that Unton was forced to send his primary secretary as bearer.20 That H2 took over writing at Edmondes’ departure for England suggests that the letters were copied out during the embassy.21

The uniformity of hand, paper and ink in the volume, and the fact that each letter does not begin on a new verso but is written sequentially into a book, emphasise the letter-book’s status as a discrete, planned unit.22 The book offers prefatory material before the letters begin (including Unton’s cipher and ‘A note of the French Kinges debt to her Ma/estie’), which implies design and the intent to produce something like a full documentation of the embassy. Coupled with the transcription of both dispatched and received letters, this demonstrates that the collection is something different to - and something physically and conceptually more than - just the straightforward preservation of copies. Letters to Unton are entered into the volume in the order received rather than the order written, further confirming Unton as its focus and producer.23 Reading sequentially through the letter-book manuscript conveys a strong sense of the glut and famine of diplomatic post, since packets are transcribed in batches as they were received, sometimes after a long delay, which indicates that the transcription took place more or less in real time. A single outgoing letter in the letter-book is in Unton’s own holograph; though this would appear to offer further corroboration, were it needed, that this is a book created while on embassy, one must be careful. Since all the letters have been pasted onto stubs of paper and rebound by later archivists, one cannot be certain from the presence of this letter that it was written directly into the letter collection - unlike the sequential flow of the rest of the letters, it is the sole piece of writing on that folio, which makes it theoretically possible that it could have been pasted in later. However, the identical vertical fold marks across the entire collection (which provided a margin for the letters during transcription) add to the clear evidence that these papers were created and kept together during the embassy.

The holograph letter is an anomaly within the letter-book. The rest of the book is of one uniform style, and is typical of the other comprehensive letter-books discussed in Chapter 3. The letters are given descriptive titles, and the vast majority list the date of sending in the left margin. In the British Library letter-book, the titles universally record sender or recipient, and 87% specify the name of the bearer; sometimes the place of sending or receipt is included, and, for incoming letters, the date of receipt is often provided. Picking out this information would have enabled Unton to keep track of the passage of letters while recording their contents for future consultation and for the making of further copies. The standardised formatting of information - particularly the inclusion of date of receipt and name of the bearer - reveals a familiar concern with the unreliability of the early modern carriage of letters, a concern that was heightened when abroad, especially in a war-wracked country.24 Frequent recording of location highlights the itinerant nature of Unton’s embassy as he travelled between military camps.

When read together, the information recorded could have served as evidence that any letters lost during travel were actually sent. Keeping track of this information was such a concern for Unton that he kept an additional journal during each embassy that detailed his daily activities and the flow of incoming and outgoing letters, further adding to the administrative load of the embassy (again, the journal from the first embassy is in Edmondes’ hand).25

Close attention to the particular features of the copied letters allows us to glimpse the process of production as undertaken by Unton’s secretaries, which in turn reveals the value conferred onto the ambassador’s letters, during and after their sending. The letter-book transcripts appear to have been made from Unton’s loose draft copies of his dispatched letters (and, in the case of the incoming letters, made from those he received).26 Evidence for this is seen first in the fact that the wording of the endorsements on the loose drafts is repeated in the titles given to the letter-book copies. Corroborating evidence that his drafts were the copyists’ source is found in a single word of marginal annotation on some of Unton’s drafts, now bound into Cottonian manuscript Caligula E VIII. As was standard practice when storing individual letters, each of these drafts was folded in four horizontally to make a long, thin packet, and endorsed on what would be the top of the exposed third panel. However, what is not typical is that under this endorsement on most of the drafts - in a different ink but a contemporary hand - is the word ‘entred’.27 This suggests someone effectively ticking off each letter as they entered them into a volume. A review of the extant draft copies suggests that this annotation is part of an administrative practice followed by H2 but not by Hl (Edmondes). The drafts before Edmondes’s departure to England are not marked ‘entred’, but all drafts that correlate with letters written in the letter-book by H2 are.28 From this inscription, we can posit a scenario in which this second secretary processed the draft copies after sending and methodically entered them into the letter-book, as part of a recognised administrative task. We may even be able to go further and suggest that this was a recognised secretarial practice for creating epistolary entry-books, and perhaps one followed particularly in the embassy in France: the same practice can be observed with Sir Thomas Parry’s letters, who also kept a letter-book when ambassador to France from 1602-05. Some of Parry’s drafts have been marked ‘Copyed’ in what appears to be the same hand and ink as the letters’ standard endorsement, suggesting that the same process was being followed a decade later.29

As well as revealing the source and context of the letter-book transcription, the endorsements on Unton’s drafts also let us glimpse the active mediation and decision-making that went into compiling this collection of letters. A letter sent from Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, to Unton sees the scribe query: ‘whether to be entred or no. q[uae]rae.’.30 The answer was apparently no, since the letter does not appear in the letter-book; the following letter by Buckhurst is also omitted and is not endorsed ‘entred’.31

This shows the secretary checking whether or not to include the letters from Buckhurst, and then omitting them, perhaps because they were thought to concern more private matters than Unton would want including in the lasting record of the embassy. We know that Edmondes was an important figure in the embassy and, as mentioned in Chapter 1, acted in Unton’s stead during his absences (though without his title); this query by the less experienced secretary demonstrates a recognition that not every letter was to be added to the book, and that this was a subjective and significant matter on which he had to seek advice. The next section will consider why.

The number of forms in which a single letter can be found, and the opportunity for variation across those forms, gives us pause to consider the instability of the letter as evidentiary text. Whether a draft, the sent epistle, a contemporary copy, or a later copy, we must be attuned to the fact that the text and audience of the letter can change: accordingly, it is often more helpful to specify the letter as sent or as drafted or copied rather than refer to the ‘original’ letter. The abundance of copies of Unton’s surviving correspondence is deeply revealing, both in the abstract and in its smallest material detail. These copies show us how letters were valued and preserved, and we can recover the day-to-day activity of the embassy by tracing a single letter through its extant versions. For example, consider Unton’s letter of 28 October 1592 to Burghley: the version as sent is written in Unton’s Italianate holograph, which reveals something of his social standing and relationship with Burghley; there is a messier draft in an unidentified scribal hand, from which the neat holograph was likely copied - this is one of many drafts which include extensive correction in Unton’s hand, confirming these as working drafts in the vein of Henry Cobham’s copy-book; finally, after the holograph was sent, the draft was folded into one long packet and endorsed by Edmondes with the standard titular information before he copied it into the letter-book.32 Here we see Unton’s working process in drafting the letter with the aid of his secretaries, his central involvement in writing out some letters, and, since Edmondes endorsed the draft copy and entered it into the letter-book, we can speculate that these two ways of processing the draft were done at the same time. With multiple letters to write every few days - often at short notice if a bearer arrived unexpectedly - such activity was administratively demanding.33 However, Unton was well prepared for this, despite the challenges of war. He had at least four secretaries while ambassador to France: Fancheur, Lewcknor, Bezeirs, and Edmondes are named in the letters, and only once is he forced to record in the letter-book ‘I wrote to the Lord Threasurer by mr Darcye but could not for hast reserve a Coppie thereof’.34 Writing letters was a significant part of embassy activity, and the effort expended not just on writing but also on copying correspondence demonstrates the importance of this record. In addition to offering insight into the physical processes within the embassy, subjecting the complex web of letters and copies to close analysis reveals that the ambassador was managing more than just his letters: he was managing his reputation.

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