Elizabethan Diplomacy and Epistolary Culture  book cover
1st Edition

Elizabethan Diplomacy and Epistolary Culture

ISBN 9780367761295
Published May 24, 2021 by Routledge
304 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

A new account of Elizabethan diplomacy with an original archival foundation, this book examines the world of letters underlying diplomacy and political administration by exploring a material text never before studied in its own right: the diplomatic letter-book.

Author Elizabeth R. Williamson argues that a new focus on the central activity of information gathering allows us to situate diplomacy in its natural context as one of several intertwined areas of crown service, and as one of the several sites of production of political information under Elizabeth I. Close attention to the material features of these letter-books elucidates the environment in which they were produced, copied, and kept, and exposes the shared skills and practices of diplomatic activity, domestic governance, and early modern archiving. This archaeological exploration of epistolary and archival culture establishes a métier of state actor that participates in – even defines – a notably early modern growth in administration and information management. Extending this discussion to our own conditions of access, a new parallel is drawn across two ages of information obsession as Williamson argues that the digital has a natural place in this textual history that we can no longer ignore.

This study makes significant contributions to epistolary culture, diplomatic history, and early modern studies more widely, by showing that understanding Elizabethan diplomacy takes us far beyond any single ambassador or agent defined as such: it is a way into an entire administrative landscape and political culture.

Table of Contents


Part I


Chapter One

Diplomatic Players: The People Within and Without the Embassy

Chapter Two

Travel, Intelligencing, and the Skills of Information Management


Part II


Chapter Three

Diplomatic Letter-Books: Writing, Copying, and Keeping Letters

Chapter Four

Writing Reputations: Copying Henry Unton’s Letter-books


Part III


Chapter Five

Beyond the Embassy: Preservation, Consultation, and the Afterlife of Letters

Chapter Six

Abundance and Access: Letters in the Digital Archive



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Elizabeth R. Williamson is a Research Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Exeter. She has published essays on early modern letters and ambassadorial writings, and has worked on multiple digital projects, including The Diplomatic Correspondence of Thomas Bodley, Early Modern Letters Online, and A Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama.