Bess of Hardwick's Letters is the first book-length study of the c. 250 letters to and from the remarkable Elizabethan dynast, matriarch and builder of houses Bess of Hardwick (c. 1527–1608). By surveying the complete correspondence, author Alison Wiggins uncovers the wide range of uses to which Bess put letters: they were vital to her engagement in the overlapping realms of politics, patronage, business, legal negotiation, news-gathering and domestic life. Much more than a case study of Bess's letters, the discussions of language, handwriting and materiality found here have fundamental implications for the way we approach and read Renaissance letters. Wiggins offers readings which show how Renaissance letters communicated meaning through the interweaving linguistic, palaeographic and material forms, according to socio-historical context and function. The study goes beyond the letters themselves and incorporates a range of historical sources to situate circumstances of production and reception, which include Account Books, inventories, needlework and textile art and architecture. The study is therefore essential reading for scholars in historical linguistics, historical pragmatics, palaeography and manuscript studies, material culture, English literature and social history.
Alison Wiggins is a senior lecturer in English Language at the University of Glasgow, UK.