Preface: Calendar  of State Papers (Domestic Series) of The Reign of Elizabeth, 15811590, 1591–1594, 1601–1603, with Addenda 1547–1565

 Albert Rolls
Touro College

Albert Rolls. "Preface: Calendar  of State Papers (Domestic Series) of The Reign of Elizabeth, 15811590, 1591–1594, 1601–1603, with Addenda 1547–1565". Early Modern Literary Studies 13.3 (January, 2008) 5.1-6<URL:>.

  1. Three volumes of the calendars of state papers, the abstracts of Britain’s government records that were edited in the nineteenth century, are reproduced here: the Calendar  of State Papers (Domestic Series) of The Reign of Elizabeth, 15811590 (1865); the Calendar Of State Papers (Domestic Series) of The Reign of Elizabeth, 1591–1594 (1867); and the Calendar Of State Papers (Domestic Series) of The Reign of Elizabeth, 1601–1603, with Addenda 1547–1565 (1870). The first volume was edited by Robert Lemon; the latter two by Mary Anne Everett Green. Facsimiles are usually produced to provide access to original texts that would otherwise be difficult to acquire. These e-facsimiles are somewhat different because the originals are abstracts. The content, however, would be virtually unobtainable to most researchers without the calendars’ existence, since the papers that they describe and occasionally quote are found only in Britain’s National Archives, formerly the Public Record Office.

  2. When the last of the volumes of the Elizabethan domestic series—as well as volumes from the calendars of state papers of Henry VIII’s reign, of the foreign series of Elizabeth’s reign, and of the colonial series—was released, an anonymous reviewer wrote: “If any doubt could exist as to the value and importance of the great work of calendaring, and so rendering available the matchless stores of historical documents preserved among our National Records . . . it must be instantly dispelled by a glance at the contents.” [1] Echoing Everett Green’s preface, the reviewer went on to note that the Elizabethan volume covering 1601–1603 “throws much light on the proceedings against the adherents of the Earl of Essex; on the controversy between the Jesuits in England and the secular priests; and furnishes some minute details concerning the last illness and death of Elizabeth.”

  3. The calendars throw light on much else. The later volumes in the series are especially informative, as they contain detailed summaries and some partial reproductions of the papers, whereas the earlier volumes, those edited by Robert Lemon, “offered only very brief treatment of the contents . . . manuscripts were generally identified in a few lines of description often taken verbatim from the endorsement of the original,” as C. S. Knighton observes. [2] The early volumes, nonetheless, remain important resources. The volume covering 1581–1590, for instance, is one of the few places where details, both sensational and mundane, of the preparations that were made for a Spanish invasion of England  during the mid 1580s can be found. An entry dated April 27, 1587 summarizes a letter that Sir Francis Drake sent to Sir Francis Walsingham about the famous preemptive strike that Drake made against the Spanish fleet in Cadiz:
    Adventures on their voyage from Plymouth to the Road of Cadiz, where they sunk 33 ships preparing for England; burnt one of 1,500 tons belonging to the Marquis of Santa Cruce, and brought away four laden with provisions. Great preparations made by King Philip for the invasion of England. Intends, by God’s help, to intercept their supplies. (406-07)
    Other entries reveal some of what happened on the local level in various English counties, particularly during June 1588 (see 495–96). Together, the records concerning the response to Spain’s invasion plans give an overview of what went on in England during the period leading up to the launching of the Spanish Armada.

  4. These volumes also contain less official material, such as expressions of the skepticism with which Elizabeth’s virgin status was received. One Thomas Scot, according to a March 1581 entry, sent a letter to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, writing “the traitorous speeches of Henry Hawkins—that my Lord Robert hath had fyve children by the Queene, and she never goethe in progress but to be delivered” (12). Similar rumors, as well as more derogatory gossip, circulated until the end of the reign. Some twenty years after Hawkins made his assertions, one Hugh Broughton declared, William Knyght is reported to have written in a letter that Everett Green reproduces at some length in an April 1601 entry:
    He could not find in his heart to pray for her [Elizabeth], as she was an atheist, and a maintainer of atheism, and therefore he would not come into the realm until her death.. . . He said that Her Majesty had a daughter, which should be or was affianced unto the Prince of Condé, to succeed after her decease; also that Her Majesty had been, of long time past, married to Lord Chancellor Hatton had not Mrs. Ratcliffe hindered it. (1601–603, 23–24)
    The letter goes on to suggest that Elizabeth had had another daughter and had ordered the midwife who had delivered the child to throw her into the fire. The report is obviously calumnious, the blather of a disgruntled subject. Broughton, as Craig Rustici explains, “after dedicating A Concent of Scripture [1588] to the queen and presenting her with a copy of that text . . . had become bitterly disappointed with Elizabeth and with her seeming indifference toward his labors.” [3] Nonetheless, Broughton’s image of the queen remains significant, allowing us to see a representation of her that is not simply unofficial but also that would likely never have found itself into print.

  5. Of course, the interest of those using the calendars will determine that which is significant in the papers, but it is likely that the most revealing information lies in the minutiae. Everett Green suggests as much in her preface to the 1591–1594 calendar, writing:
    Among the most remarkable papers in the present volume are the intelligence letters written by or to Tho[mas] Phelippes, the decipherer. . . . Part of his correspondence he made a merit of communicating to the Government, but the more important portion consists of his private papers. . . . These are drafts of letters written by him to persons abroad, or by him for other persons, giving such minute details of the proceedings at Court as it was easy for him, through his acquaintance with the Earl of Essex and Sir Bob. Cecil, to obtain. (see pp. 21, 38, 47, 64, 74, 97, 117, 309, 314, 328, 341, 353, 358, 360, 369, 419)
    Minutiae, after all, is mostly what governing is about, and even the most powerful of figures find themselves mired in it.Thus William Cecil, Lord Burghley and John Fortescue—a  second cousin of Elizabeth and her tutor during Mary’s reign—found themselves, in July of 1591, writing to Richard Young, John Robinson, and Phelippes to complain about the lack of custom taxes being collected.
    Great quantities of cloths, kersies &c., are weekly conveyed overland to divers ports, and thence exported, and small customs paid. Her Majesty, greatly misliking such abuses, as an hindrance to her revenues, has directed the writers to frame orders for remedy thereof. . . . They [Young, Robinson, and Phelippes] are to appoint persons to take accounts of such goods, and certify them weekly, with power, if any doubts arise, to open the goods. They are also to charge the searcher in London that no cloth nor kersey is to pass by water, without a just entry thereof, and a warrant granted. As such goods are secretly conveyed away in waggons and carts, without paying duties, they are to stay all those having them, until the owners thereof put in bonds to bring a certificate within one month, and pay the duties. . . . All persons found unwilling or negligent in this service are to be stayed, together with their goods, and brought before the writers, to answer their contempt. (68–69)
  6. These volumes have been scanned from my own copies, which are practically unusable, because, not having been printed an acid-free paper, the pages are crumbling. The idea of producing these e-facsimiles was conceived with the idea of preserving a resource for myself, as I could not open my books without quickening their deterioration, but the possibility that I could offer them to others was what motivated me to turn the pages into electric documents. I would like to thank Terence J. Fitzgerald for editorial advice on the preface.

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[1] Notes and Queries 4th Series, Volume 7 (February  25, 1871), 180.

[2] Law and Government Under the Tudors: Essays Presented to Sir Geoffrey Elton, Regius Professor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge on the Occasion of His Retirement, ed. Claire Cross et. al. (Cambridge, 1988), 163-76.

[3] The Afterlife of Pope Joan: Deploying the Popess Legend in Early Modern England. (University of Michigan Press, 2006), 72.

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© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).