Institute of Historical Research



R. A. Roberts (editor)

Year published





Comment on this article
Double click anywhere on the text to add an annotation in-line

Citation Show another format:

'Introduction', Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House, Volume 4: 1590-1594 (1892), pp. III-XIII. URL: Date accessed: 18 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


(Min 3 characters)



Every possible effort has been made to include in the present volume a notice more or less detailed of every paper in the collection of Cecil manuscripts at Hatfield, which belongs to the period comprised between 1st January 1590 and the end of the month of September 1594. It has been deemed proper to bring the volume to a close at this point, since to extend it to the last day of the year would have added at least a hundred pages to its already ample size and necessitated a proportionate enlargement of the index. Within the limits of time specified above, the papers have been treated fully, the abstracts erring, if at all in this respect, on the side of copiousness, a fault which, perhaps, most students will be ready to condone. But be that as it may, the ample treatment which the papers have received in the body of the calendar renders it wholly unnecessary to do anything more in this introductory part than to indicate some of their chief contents.

Before proceeding further, however, it should be again stated (see Introduction to Part I.), and in any investigations carried on among the contents of the Hatfield collection always re membered, that, as a collection of English State papers of the period, it is in varying degree incomplete, and that what is lacking here will in all probability be found among the State papers in the Public Record Office or in the British Museum.

One other general remark seems also to be required, namely this, that with respect to a number of papers noticed in this volume, and those not the least important, the claim cannot be advanced that their contents are here for the first time laid before the student of history. An instance in point, not to speak of the Murdin Collection, is the correspondence of Queen Elizabeth and King James VI. of Scotland, the whole or nearly the whole of which has been carefully edited by Mr. John Bruce, F.S.A., and published under the auspices of the Camden Society. On the other hand, however, much of the volume does possess the merit of a first disclosure, and even where, this is not so, its information is derived in many cases not from the same but from a second and concurrent authority. Of this feature the correspondence already referred to again affords an illustration, for the Cecil manuscripts yield, as might lie expected, drafts or memoranda only of the Queen's letters, and not the letters themselves as despatched and received; and, as a matter of fact, Mr. Bruce's text is in no case taken from the same sources, as a reference to his useful volume will show.

Dealing now with the contents of this calendar, the allusion made above will, under the circumstances, call sufficient attention to the interchange of views, scoldings, avowals of disinterested affection, misunderstandings, explanations, and all the rest, which fill the letters of the Queen and King James one to the other during these years, and we may pass on at once to another of “Her Highness's” correspondents, one prominent among them, her ally and protégé, the Protestant King Henry of Navarre, transformed before the end of the period of this volume into the Catholic King Henry IV. of France. Statements of his need of military succour, mingled with expressions of devotion to the Queen's person, is the main subject of the correspondence on Henry's side. Complaint of the misuse of the aid she was persuaded to send to him, a plain and unmistakeable avowal of her sentiments on the subject of his religious perversion, as she held his change to be, and the like, is the main burden on the Queen's side. Writing in French she displays queenly originality of construction and etymology which is as faithfully reproduced in the abstracts as may be. The King's method of writing his own language is also adhered to, a practice adopted for the most part in the cases of all who employ a language other than English, when it has been thought proper for various reasons not to give translations of their letters.

Lord Burghley.
The paramount influence of Lord Burghley and Sir Robert Cecil is of course evident in the pages of this calendar, that of the father throughout, that of the son in the portion which belongs to the second half of the period. One indication among others of their position in the kingdom is the number of letters and petitions addressed to them. They appear, indeed, mainly in the character of receivers of communications; comparatively seldom as the writers. Many documents, however, bear the pertinent annotations of the Queen's aged and experienced minister, that minister whose failing health a colleague in state affairs, Sir John Fortescue, feelingly bewails, because he is a counsellor whose like “never would be seen again, and certainly never had been in England before.” Allusions to the decay of Lord Burghley's physical powers are numerous. Very early in the volume (p. 4) a rumour of the recovery of his health, which his correspondent rejoices over, is stamped by Lord Burghley himself, as relatio falsa. A couple of years later the father, at the end of instructions to the son, writes, “If I may not have leisure to cure my head, I shall shortly ease it in my grave,” but he was ready nevertheless, be it said, to give personal attention to the business of the State if Her Majesty misliked his absence. The last picture of the aged minister outlined in this volume is from the hand of his secretary and is not without pathetic interest. “And truly, methinks, he is nothing sprighted, but lying upon his couch he museth or slumbereth. And being a little before supper at the fire, I offered him some letters and other papers, and he was soon weary of them, and told me he was unfit to hear suits.”

Sir Robert Cecil.
Sir Robert Cecil's name is not prominent until the decline of the year 1592. He had, it is true, been sworn of the Privy Council a twelvemonth before, a fact which, it is interesting to note, is brought out in a letter to Lord Essex. But it is in connexion with the business of the valuable prize carrack, the “sensation,” it may be said, of the year, that evidence of his active interference in matters of State begins to accumulate, and it is at this point and in the same connexion that he makes one of his few appearances as the writer of a letter. A characteristic and interesting appearance it is. The object of his epistolary fervour is no less a personage than the Queen's Majesty, and the highflown sentiment of his epistle was, it may be presumed, extremely agreeable reading for the eyes for which it was intended. He writes from Dartmouth (p. 632) to tell her of his “blessed” state as “a vassal to the Creator's celestial creature,” pleased out of angelic grace to pardon and allow his zealous and careful desires. “My services are attended with envy,” he writes, and his position was not unprofitable to himself. The Queen valued him, and one of the causes of her resentment against Sir Henry Unton was his bitter speech against her young minister.

The letters relating to Cecil's children possess a very graphic and human, if merely domestic, interest. A baby boy and his elder sister were despatched to the country, away from the unsuitable atmosphere of London and the Court circle, and the father from time to time receives news of them. The wilfulness and ill-behaviour of the wet-nurse who “fretteth away her own flesh and waxeth blear eyed” on account of separa tion, it would seem, from “Jennings, the boy,”—making up in beer that which was wanting by the failure to observe her master's wish that she should “eat pottage and drink posset ale,”—is a terrible trial to the motherly heart of Cecil's aunt, as well as to the probably old and dignified steward of the Lord Treasurer at Theobalds. And it is not strange that it should have been so, for when “the boy” did not arrive at a time appointed, the young woman fell to swooning, so that they “were forced to cut lace, girdle, apron strings, to give her waters to drink to save her life, as we thought;” and when at last the long-looked for swain did come, what a scene was there! She was forbidden to go out to greet the object of her affection in the courtyard by the steward, who also tried to confine their place of meeting to the hall and to shut the man out from the nursery, whereupon “she cried and howled like a stark bedlam and swoond withal, or rather counterfeited a swooning.” In face of this virago, the authorities at Theobalds were helpless. “Now that he is here she must and will have him all day long in the nursery with her, and to dine and to sup with her, and there he must be part of the night also.” Plaintively and despairingly asks the trusty old servant—shocked beyond measure,—“And what an unseemly and ungodly thing this example of theirs is in such a house, I refer it to your honour's consideration.”

Earl of Essex.
The Earl of Essex is among those whose names appear again and again in the following pages, not seldom as the writer of a letter, more often as the receiver. During the period of his expedition to France towards the end of 1591 his name recurs I must be offensive to the multitude and to others that may be revengeful; who also have many and great friends. I can please none because I thirst only to please one, and malice is no less wakeful in itself than fearful to others, were not my trust in her divine justice which never suffereth her creatures to com “plain.” Sacred are “those lines,” whose nature does not appear but whose author was doubtless the Queen herself, and which, anyhow, gave him comfort such as could best be expressed in silence—lines “written anew in his heart and adjoined to the rest of his admiring thoughts, which, always travailing from wonder to wonder, spend themselves in contemplation, being absent and present in reading secretly the story of marvels in that more than human perfection.” The inference is that the style of address of the young courtier was approved of by his father, for it is the latter's careful endorsement of a draft of the letter which makes it possible to identify the writer and to fix the date. The incidents of his visit to Dartmouth are to be obtained with greater particularity from the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, of the period than from this collection.

From this point onward Sir Robert Cecil's name becomes of more frequent occurrence and presently the most frequent of any. His growing influence is shown by the number of presents he receives and the number of hinted or open offers made to him of reward in the event of the successful exertion of his interest on behalf of the seekers of grant or office or judgment. Whether or not approaches of this nature were acceptable is a matter of doubtful inference only, so far as these papers throw light on the question, but on two occasions the fact of such means having been used is indignantly denied. The first denial comes from Sir John Perrot, and is found in his will, written in the Tower, “upon which he received the Sacrament in the presence of Sir Michael Blunt and shortly after he died.” Obviously the time and manner of this testimony could not possibly be more solemn. The second is given two years later in a letter to Cecil himself by Sir Thomas Sherley, who characterises a statement of the kind as a most vile and monstrous lie and a dangerous slander, and withal absurd, because the personages were too honourable to use any such means” Sir Robert Cecil, however, undoubtedly liked a good bargain constantly and his correspondents are numerous. Included among them are the Queen herself, Lord Burghley, the King of France, Marshal de Biron, the French Ambassador, Sir Henry Unton, and not a few others, some of whom express warm attachment. The account of this expedition to be derived from this calendar is, for the reason adverted to at the beginning of this introduction, very fragmentary; but many facts connected with it are to be gathered, such as the Queen's disapproval of his proceedings, the manner of his brother's death before Rouen, and the disorderly state into which the soldiery under his command fell during the time when he forsook them to make his hurried journey to the Queen's presence. Sir Thomas Leighton, left in charge in his absence, was thoroughly weary of his position and wrote (p. 147) that the disorders were so great that he, for his part, hoped for no redress until Lord Essex's return, attributing the state of things to the want of pay and supplies. Marshal de Biron tells Essex (p. 149) of extraordinary complaints brought to him of the conduct of the English soldiers, of burnings accompanying their passage everywhere, with sack of gentle men's houses, and even of churches. His explanation of the cause of this behaviour may be expressed in the proverb which declares that “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” “Il n'y a que la trop grande cessation qui est cause du mal. . les gens de guerre ne sont jamais plus gens de bien que quant ils sont le plus occupes,” is the marshal's sage reflection. Others testify to the great sickness among the troops and their want of victual, and it is clear that great numbers, when Essex departed for England, followed him “without any order or licence, or were run away no one knows whither.”

The Queen's favourite is not nearly so prominent in the later part of the volume as he is in the earlier. One might almost infer from the aspect of these pages that just as Sir Robert Cecil's star was rising Essex's declined. Yet for a while he is evidently in close communication with the Queen, the medium by which her wishes are conveyed to Cecil himself. But there comes a time when he separates himself from the action of the Queen and Council, forbearing out of modesty, indeed, to censure, but venturing to express his satisfaction, nevertheless, at his absence from the meeting of the Council which had arrived at the decision with which he disagreed. Several of his letters are addressed to Robert Cecil whose “offers of kindness and professions of affection” (p. 524) he affects to have willingly embraced and promises justly to requite. A letter to the last named singing the praises of Francis Bacon and urging him to press upon the Queen the young lawyer's transcendent claims to the vacant office of Solicitor is on p. 525. Now it is that as to Essex himself, with regard to his royal mistress, all presumption and hope had died within him, though duty and passionate zeal for her service, he affirms, could never die. Early in the volume (p. 169) is a letter in which tenderness and feeling is displayed, centred upon Essex himself. It is his wife who is his correspondent. “I thank you,” she writes, “for your kind sending which does satisfy me for that unkindness which I took for your going without taking leave of me. My mother told me it was her advice, but I did not give so great credit to her speech as I do to your letter. The charge you have laid upon me shall make me strive to overcome those extreme passions which affection hath brought me to, and I will have the more care of myself for your little ones' sake. * * * * Farewell, dear life, and to make me be assured of your love have care of yourself. In your absence I will spend my time in praying for you.” And then wifely affection gives place to the motherly ere the letter ends. “My little jewel begins to mend so that I trust within these two or three days he will be well.” Of the enthusiasm engendered by Essex's leadership, a sentence in a letter from Sir H. Palavicino is evidence. Writing with regard to the projected expedition to Brittany in July 1594 he says (p. 567), “It is already public that the Earl of Essex is not going, and thus cools most of the heat of the enterprise.” An interesting letter is that addressed to him by his “son,” R. Brackenbury, which will be found on p. 142.

To a considerable extent, though not to the extent which marked the last volume, the following pages present materials for the history of Scotland and Scotch personages. These materials are chiefly, though not entirely, to be found in the correspondence addressed by various persons to Archibald Douglas, whose position in England, though he appears to have discharged some of the functions of a Scotch resident ambassador, it is somewhat difficult, on the evidence which these papers afford, to determine. It is certain that in the year 1591 (see pp. 90, 100) he was not formally accredited to the Queen, yet in the previous year. (p. 54) he is found to have made a complaint “by his King's direction” and to have obtained redress, while there are numerous instances of a desire to secure the aid of his influence. In 1592, also (p. 201), a friend describes him as “remaining in England to the great honour of His Majesty and his country, in whose absence little or nothing would be accounted of the nation,” and he is contrasted, much to their disadvantage, with these counterfeit ambassadors that has been from time to time “at Her Majesty,” among whom, it is to be supposed, it must be intended to include the Lord Justice Clerk, Douglas's “trustiest friend” (p. 89), who was sent on a mission to England in the spring of 1590. With King James Douglas was in great disfavour, and in the Chancellor of Scotland he had a persistent and powerful enemy. His relations with the Queen and her Ministers in England, however, were intimate, cordial, and, one may say, useful. In July 1593 (p. 334) the Queen sends him 100l. “for his present relief” and another 100l. the month after (p. 365). On this occasion he was the intermediary of communications from a party among the Scotch nobility, as in 1590 he had been the intermediary through his nephew, Richard Douglas, of the proposals of the Earl of Bothwell. Factious lawlessness, “unrestlessness,” fickleness “not inconstant in inconstancy,” envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, not making pause at murder, these would seem to be the characteristics which mark this period in Scotch history; but the materials here are necessarily imperfect. A portrait of the King—“a virtuous and good prince otherways”—drawn by Douglas's nephew, and his faithful correspondent and ally at the Scotch Court, is interesting. Discussing a suggestion of his uncle's, he says (p. 99) :—“I confess and must acknowledge that that were both the safest and most sure way if we had to do with a prince that either would freely hear reason or, when it were heard, judge of it according to the truth or appearance thereof; but such is the unhap of us and our time that we have to do with one” who thinks and judges of all matters not as [they are, but according to the opinion of those to whom he gives himself as it were over. In cujus animo nihil est liberum, non amor non odium, nisi jussa et indita.”

The papers which relate to Ireland are few in number. On p. 218 is a draft in Lord Burghley's handwriting of the warning addressed by the Queen to the Earl of Tyrone on the subject of the lawless behaviour of his son-in-law Hugh Koo O'Donnell and his “son called Con,” requiring him to reduce the former to dutiful behaviour, and himself to cause the latter to be taken and delivered up if by any escape justice should not be satisfied. Two portraits of a very opposite character, though it would seem of one and the same person, possess a somewhat romantic interest. A friend of Mr. Waad, the Clerk of the Council, one that doth understand the state of Ireland as well as any man of his calling,” paints the first picture in decidedly dark colours. A certain mystery attached to the birth and parentage of the gentleman whom it was intended to depict, one Bryan Reaughe O'More by name. For a long while he had been held to belong to the clan McLaughlyns, “an inferior nation of the O'More's,” but in due time his mother made the disclosure to him, before many bad people which are to be his followers, and some of her own friends,” that the McLaughlyns could not claim the honour of his origin, he being the very son of Rory Oge O'More, begotten by the “Shenan” side, “unto the which father the said Bryan among his followers and friends sticks unto.” He appears to have been the terror of Queen's County and the neighbourhood, and Sir Charles Carroll meeting him in London promptly took steps to have him clapped into prison, from which he was about to be released by the intervention of Mr. Pusie Butler, “to whom the Queen hath been very gracious,” when this friend of Mr. Waad's interfered to prevent if he could the catastrophe, which it is plain he most heartily believed that this release would be. Ineffectual, however, the interference must have been if the person who eighteen months later is called Brian More and then described under quite another aspect, is the same individual. At any rate there are coincident circum stances. This “Irish gent “also, innocently coming to London for no other cause than to see the Queen and learn English fashions, was (such was his mishap!) on the very first night of his arrival carried to the Compter, an “infectious” lodging in which he compulsorily remained for seven and twenty long months until released by Lord Burghley. The “valorous deeds” of this “choice gent” are recounted in heroic fashion by his friend Mr. John Byrd, and the story of his achievements can be read of on p. 564 of this calendar. A few documents on the subject of the trade of pipe staves in Ireland in which Sir Walter Raleigh was interested, and the copy of a letter on the subject of the succession followed in the case of the lordship of Muskry pretty well exhaust the number of those which have reference to Irish matters.

The papers in general are not confined to a few subjects merely but are very miscellaneous in character. There is probably some allusion at the least to most matters which engaged the attention of the Queen and her Ministers, or were brought under their notice during the period. The names of the prominent men of the time are of frequent occurrence. A number of letters of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir John Gilbert, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Francis Vere, and other famous fighting men will be found, letters which in many instances have to do more with arts of peace than with acts of war. Commerce finds its representatives in Richard Carmarthen, Thomas Middleton, and Alderman Billingsley. Events of the wars proceeding in France and the Low Countries are detailed in many papers. An account of the battle of Ivry on p. 21 is worth perusal. The names and movements of Recusants, the coming and going of priests and seminarists, the recruiting from among the youth of the country of the English Catholic party on the Continent, the information of spies, or offers of information, the examinations of suspected persons, confessions of others, intercepted letters from notorious Catholic emissaries, all such may be classed together in a single reference as bearing upon one leading subject of men's thoughts during the time. As doctrinally at the opposite pole to the Catholic party may be mentioned the Puritans, Greenwood and Barrow, two letters from whom, written to Lord Burghley from the Fleet Prison will be found on pp. 73 and 74.

The replies from the various seaports—Bristol, Southampton, Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and others—to a demand from the Lords of Council in June 1591 for vessels to join the Queen's ships for the purpose of intercepting the Spanish India Fleet are both instructive and interesting. It was in the following year that the great Portuguese carrack was taken, and numerous papers relate to the proceedings connected with the discovery, security and disposition of her contents, and the distribution of the ultimate profit which resulted from her capture. Of the events of the time none perhaps is more pathetic, as it appears in this Calendar, than the sudden and mysterious sickness and death of the young Earl of Derby in April 1594, in connexion with which followed the trial and execution of Richard Hesketh. There are several letters from noble ladies in this collection, some already alluded to, and among them two from the stricken young Countess, one dictated amid the anxiety of her husband's dreadful sickness when it is little wonder that “her senses were overcome with sorrow.”

These are some of the main topics suggested by the papers contained in this volume. What other matters there are with regard to which information is afforded will be readily learned by referring to the index.

In the preparation of this Calendar the Commissioners have had the assistance of Mr. R. Arthur Roberts, Mr. Robert F. Isaacson, Mr. Hamilton E. Lawrance (since retired on account of serious illness), and Mr. E. Salisbury, all of the Public Record Office, and they again have to acknowledge the courtesy and help of Mr. R. T. Gunton, private Secretary to the Marquis of Salisbury.