Family, Friends and Gifts: Bess of Hardwick’s Correspondents

For today’s post, I’ve chosen four letters written to Bess of Hardwick by female relatives and friends of varying ages and status, revisiting the themes of material culture and gift-giving in Magdalen Lloyd’s letters but in a very different social context. Food and textiles were particularly common gifts between early modern women. Moreover, gift-exchange was a key element in Tudor elite political patronage as well as social relationships, and receiving gifts well was just as important as giving them.

Lady Frances Pierrepont, Bess’s daughter sends Bess linen and a drinking glass [c.1575]


my most humble duty done vnto your honour with lyke desire of your blesinge vnto master pierrepont and me and our cheldren/ I haue sent vnto your honoure a peece of lawne and a drinckinge glasse as a remembrance of my intyre louynge dutie/ with most hartie wishe of manye happye newe yeares vnto your honoure then the wiche no yearthlye thinge can be more to my comforthe for I am soe muche and many wayse bounde vnto you as none can be more and so neare vnto you as none can be nearar that your longe and most happy lyfe is the graytest ioye in the wich I besecche the allmyghtye to grannte yow with all the rest of his best blessinges and so I humble tak my leue from holme thes wensdaye…

Elizabeth Wingfield, Bess’s half-sister, on gifts of clothing Bess sent to the queen [1576?]


my humbil duty remembred yow honour shall know that after my cousin wilame and my carefull toyll by reason of the shurt tyme we haue reped such recompence as could not dissire better furst her majesty neuer liked any thinge you gaue her so well the color and strange triminge of the garments with the reche and grat cost bestowed vpon yt hath caused her to geue out such good speches of my lord and yow ladyship as I neuer hard of better she toulde my lord of Lester and my lord chamberlen that you had geuen her such garments thys yere as she neuer had any so well lyked her/ and sayd that good nobell copell the show in al things what loue the bere me and surely my lord I wyll not be found unthankefull/ if my lord and yow ladyship had geuen v hundrd pound in my opennon yt would not haue bene so well taken/ and for yow other thinge my cousins william and charls wyll geue yow ladyship full aduertysment but surely in generall al was so well and thankefuly taken as ys posibell with master aturnoye and hys wyues most humbill duty/ and now I humbely pray yow honour that I may reseaue the rest of the money I haue received lli and haue promised payment for the rest with spede and so I beseche the almighty to make the rest of my very good lorde and yow ladyship’s yeres as prossorous as thys beginynge so with my humbill prayer to god for you and all yours I end with my humbill duty thys ij Ienouory…

Elizabeth Smyth, mother to a goddaughter of Bess, thanks Bess for a gift of a bowl with a cover (1578)


My moste honorabel good Lady; I thought it my duty to sende to geue your honor humbel thanckes; that it would please you to acseppte of parte of my lettel one, so that therby your honor hath bownde bothe me and myne; if it please god to blese her with liue; to do you seruise; For I haue allwayes founde your honor so lyke a Mother vnto my selfe; that it made me presume to geue your Ladyship parte of my Childe; I haue reseued frome master Hamond a Boule with a couer; for the whiche I moste humbely thancke your honor in my gerles behalfe; Thus moste humbely Crauinge pardon for this my bowldnes: and geueinge your honor humbel thanckes for all your fauors contenually bestowed apoune me; desiering no longer to liue then I shall by all meanes sycke to deserue the same besehinge your honor to remember my humbel duty to my Honorable Good Lord; I most humbely take my leaue: prainge to god for the increase of all honor and happynes to you bothe…

Arbella Stuart, Bess’s 12-year old granddaughter, sends Bess some strands of her hair and a pot of jelly (1588)

To the right honorable, my very good Lady, and Grandmother, the Countesse of Shrewsbury

Good Lady Grandmother, I haue sent your Ladyship, the endes of my heare which were cutt the sixt day of the moone, on saterday laste; & with them, a pott of Gelly, which my seruante made; I pray God you finde it good. My Aunte Cauendishe was heere on Monday laste, she certified me, of your Ladyships good health, & dispositione, which I pray God longe to continue. I am in good health, my Cousin Mary hath had three little fittes of an agew, butt now she is well, and mery. Thus with my humble duty vnto your Ladyship & humble thanckes for the token you sent me laste, and craueinge your dayly blessinge, I humbly Ceasse. Frome Eims, the .viii. of February. 1587

Your Ladyships humble, and obbediente childe
Arbella Steward

  • Letters from the website Bess of Hardwick’s Letters
  • EMLO also includes the correspondence, with a wider range of search options (including the facility to search by gender of correspondent).
  • Felicity Heal on The Power of Gifts in early modern England

Magdalen Lloyd (late 17th century): on money, family, and gift horses

For Women’s History Month 2017: Who was Magdalen Lloyd? A good question. All I know of her is from 26 letters she wrote during the 1670s and 1680s, from various addresses in Denbighshire and London, to her “cousin” Thomas Edwards, an agent of the Chirk family at Chirk Castle. Magdalen worked as a maidservant in London for several years in the 1670s before returning home to Denbighshire. Her letters are filled with everyday gossip and anxieties and aspirations, rare survivals which I’ve loved since I first came across them during my PhD research.

The three letters here cover her pre-occupations with money and getting a better job (the wage she mentions seems fairly average [see p.188 here]), her cares for her family (especially her mother) in Wales, and also the idiosyncrasies of her spelling and punctuation. I haven’t modernized the transcriptions: deciphering them is half the, errrm, fun.

Magdalen Lloyd to Thomas Edwards, Wrexham, 13 November 1675 [NLW CC E3348]

Good cosen
My humbul servis presented unto you I desire ye favor of you yt you will be plest to lend mee 10 s shillings with the berare that I may give my goone to be be made my mother send mee 10 shilling after yu wear att Palley celyn she could not help mee of any more att present ther will goe for trimings to make it 9 s or 10 shilling and for the makeing of it ther will goe 8s at lest and for ye rest I will by a pare of shous for I want them very much pray good cosen help mee this time and I hope I shall not trobull you for any mony to gett me close as long as I shall contynue in Wrexham for in deed I was very bare of klose when I cam hear I men of klos fit for me to goe to sirvis but I am very well furnis now I pray God reward you for mee I hope in God my mother can have som way to bay all yt you are plest to lend me with my prayers with you as long as I live forom
your obleged cosen
and thankfull Magdalen Lloyd

Magdalen Lloyd to Thomas Edwards, London 12 June 1676 [NLW CC E6210]

Ever honord cos:
I have recived your kind letter wch I render you many thanks for your care about mee I hope in my God I shall be able to recompens soon of your kindness yt you wear plest to shwee unto mee in time of need wch I shall ever acknowleg as long as I live dear cos I hope Mr Thomas hath aquaint you yt I went to a place indeed dear cos I doe not like it very well it is not for any work yt I doe mislike it but I will not part with it til I hear of a better all ye profit I shall have I shall be fitter for a better my wages is but 3 pound ten shillings indeed Mr Thomas taks great care about mee hee came to bring me to ye place if I had bin his sister he could not doe more for me conserning a place indeed he is very faithfull to you ther was not wan night as long as I have bin ther but he tokes of you and drink to your health and wis you to bee with him hee gave me 2 pound ten shillings to by cols I was very loth to take soe much after you went in soe much charity about me I hope yt you shall not lous a peny of all yt you gave me pray good cos satisfie Mr Thomas for his mony I make soe bould as to give cos Ed is letter in yours this time for I sent to letters for her to Dembis but I understand by ye letter yt I had lost in cek[?] is of ye humble servis of her yt is your ever thankfull cos to pray with you
M Ll

Magdalen Lloyd to Thomas Edwards, [London] May Day 1680 [NLW CC E3731]

Honrd cos:
I give you many thanks for your kindness in sending mee a hors: mrs and her husband was gon: about 10 mile to live from London soe that I had not your letter in a week for ye hors was att ye inn 8 days a fore I hard of [i]t: I have put him in a stable in ye littill town whear my ould mrs lived in hee is weell looked to for I doe not lett him want for heae and oats I am a frayd ye have wronged him in coming for his eys runs: and hee yt looks to him tells mee: yt hee will bee blind hee canot see with wan eye ye perswayd mee that hee can never cary mee down but I hope hee will mend now hee is soe carefull looked to: I have bought mee a sadle: I am afrayd I canot gett company till ye later yend of ye term but as soon as I can have company I will sett out for ye contry I shall writ to you afore then: I am att London and shall bee till I goe to ye contry as for parting with my place Mr Thomas can satisfy you for I beelive I shall truble them if I can understand thay my caus is good the wod not a parted with mee by all mean but ye know ye reson: I am sory I have bin soe true to them in my mrs life time: as for a place I doe not fear in ye least I pray God send mee my health: pray good cos send this letter to cos Ed as soon as you recd it that cos Ed may writ to mee the very next post for I am to by some things haveing noe more: but my dayly prayers: for your care of me and I hope God will bless you what you have don for mee
M Ll
Pray lett mee know if my mother is well

The letters are held in the Chirk Castle archives at the National Library of Wales. The Chirk Castle archives are massive and wide-ranging, but have not been digitised as far as I know, though the correspondence is catalogued. (If you’re interested in seeing more of the letters, I have transcriptions…). This recent article in Wales Online gives a broader overview of Magdalen’s experiences from her letters.

Mary Prince (1788-c.1833): on slavery and freedom

For Women’s History Month 2017: Mary Prince was a West Indian slave who freed herself from slavery in England and subsequently narrated her life story to an English woman.

On the break-up of her family after the death of her first master:

Our mother, weeping as she went, called me away with the children Hannah and Dinah, and we took the road that led to Hamble Town, which we reached about four o’clock in the afternoon. We followed my mother to the market-place, where she placed us in a row against a large house, with our backs to the wall and our arms folded across our breasts. I, as the eldest, stood first, Hannah next to me, then Dinah; and our mother stood beside, crying over us. My heart throbbed with grief and terror so violently, that I pressed my hands quite tightly across my breast, but I could not keep it still, and it continued to leap as though it would burst out of my body. But who cared for that? Did one of the many by-standers, who were looking at us so carelessly, think of the pain that wrung the hearts of the negro woman and her young ones? No, no! They were not all bad, I dare say, but slavery hardens white people’s hearts towards the blacks; and many of them were not slow to make their remarks upon us aloud, without regard to our grief–though their light words fell like cayenne on the fresh wounds of our hearts. Oh those white people have small hearts who can only feel for themselves.

At length the vendue master, who was to offer us for sale like sheep or cattle, arrived, and asked my mother which was the eldest. She said nothing, but pointed to me. He took me by the hand, and led me out into the middle of the street, and, turning me slowly round, exposed me to the view of those who attended the vendue. I was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or a lamb he was about to purchase, and who talked about my shape and size in like words–as if I could no more understand their meaning than the dumb beasts. I was then put up to sale. The bidding commenced at a few pounds, and gradually rose to fifty-seven, when I was knocked down to the highest bidder; and the people who stood by said that I had fetched a great sum for so young a slave.

I then saw my sisters led forth, and sold to different owners: so that we had not the sad satisfaction of being partners in bondage. When the sale was over, my mother hugged and kissed us, and mourned over us, begging of us to keep up a good heart, and do our duty to our new masters. It was a sad parting; one went one way, one another, and our poor mammy went home with nothing. [p.4]

On slave-owners claims that slaves are happy and well cared for:

They tie up slaves like hogs–moor them up like cattle, and they lick them, so as hogs, or cattle, or horses never were flogged;–and yet they come home and say, and make some good people believe, that slaves don’t want to get out of slavery. But they put a cloak about the truth. It is not so. All slaves want to be free–to be free is very sweet. I will say the truth to English people who may read this history that my good friend, Miss S—-, is now writing down for me. I have been a slave myself–I know what slaves feel–I can tell by myself what other slaves feel, and by what they have told me. The man that says slaves be quite happy in slavery–that they don’t want to be free–that man is either ignorant or a lying person. I never heard a slave say so. I never heard a Buckra man say so, till I heard tell of it in England. Such people ought to be ashamed of themselves. They can’t do without slaves, they say. What’s the reason they can’t do without slaves as well as in England? No slaves here–no whips–no stocks–no punishment, except for wicked people. They hire servants in England; and if they don’t like them, they send them away: they can’t lick them. Let them work ever so hard in England, they are far better off than slaves. If they get a bad master, they give warning and go hire to another. They have their liberty. That’s just what we want. We don’t mind hard work, if we had proper treatment, and proper wages like English servants, and proper time given in the week to keep us from breaking the Sabbath. But they won’t give it: they will have work–work–work, night and day, sick or well, till we are quite done up; and we must not speak up nor look amiss, however much we be abused. And then when we are quite done up, who cares for us, more than for a lame horse? This is slavery. I tell it, to let English people know the truth; and I hope they will never leave off to pray God, and call loud to the great King of England, till all the poor blacks be given free, and slavery done up for evermore. [p.23]

Documenting the American South: The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself (1831)

British Library: British Slave Narratives

Alice Thornton (1627-1707): on childbirth and Providence

For Women’s History Month 2017: Alice Thornton was a seventeenth-century Yorkshire gentlewoman who wrote extensive memoirs of her life and travails.

On the birth and illness of Alice’s eldest daughter Alice (‘Naly’), 1654-55

It was the pleasure of God to give me but a weak time affter my daughter Alice her birth, and she had many preservations from death in the first yeare, beeing one night delivered from beeing overlaide by her nurse, who laid in my deare mother’s chamber a good while. One night my mother was writing pretty late, and she heard my deare child make a groneing troublsomly, and steping immeadiatly to nurrse’s bed side she saw the nurse fallen asleepe, with her breast in the childe’s mouth, and lyeing over the childe ; at which she, beeing affrighted, pulled the nurse sudainly of from her, and soe preserved my deare childe from beeing smothered.

Affter I was delivered, and in my weary bed and very weake, it fell out that my little daughter Alice, beeing then newly weaned, and about a yeare old, beeing asleepe in one cradle and the young infant in annother, she fell into a most desperate fitt, of the convultions as suposed to be, her breath stoped, grew blacke in her face, which sore frighted her maide Jane Flouer. She tooke her up immeadiatly, and with the helpe of the midwife, Jane Rimer, to open her teeth and to bring her to life againe. Butt still, affterwards, noe sooner that she was out of one fitt but fell into annother fitt, and the remidies could be by my deare mother and aunt Norton could scarce keepe her alive, she having at least twenty fitts; all freinds expecting when she should have died. … These extreamitys did soe lessen my milke, that tho’ I began to recrute strength, yet I must be subject to the changes of my condittion. Affter my deare Naly was in most miraculous mercy restored to me the next day, and recruted my strength; within a fortnight I recovred my milke, and was overjoyed to give my sweete Betty suck, which I did, and began to recover to a miracle, blessed be my great and gracious Lord God, Who remembred mercy towards me. [pp. 91-92]

On the birth of Alice’s first son in 1657

It pleased God, in much mercy, to restore me to strength to goe to my full time, my labour begining three daies; but upon the Wednesday, the ninth of December, I fell into exceeding sharpe travill in great extreamity, so that the midwife did beleive I should be delivered soone. But loe! it fell out contrary, for the childe staied in the birth, and came crosse with his feete first, and in this condition contineued till Thursday morning betweene two and three a clocke, at which time I was upon the racke in bearing my childe with such exquisitt torment, as if each lime weare divided from other, for the space of two houers; when att length, beeing speechlesse and breathlesse, I was, by the infinitt providence of God, in great mercy delivered. But I having had such sore travell in danger of my life soe long, and the childe comeing into the world with his feete first, caused the childe to be allmost strangled in the birth, only liveing about halfe an houer, so died before we could gett a minister to baptize him, although he was sent for. [p.95]

Internet Archive: The Autobiography of Mrs Alice Thornton, of East Newton, Co. York, ed. by C.Jackson (1875)
See also the recent modern edition of Alice’s autobiography, My First Booke of My Life, edited by Raymond Anselment (£, but much fuller than the 19th-century edition).

Women’s History Month 2017: Early Modern Women’s Voices

For Women’s History Month this year I’m doing a series of posts highlighting primary sources of women’s writings and voices (in English or translated into English) between the 16th and early 19th centuries. There will be autobiographical writings, letters, archival sources. Some may be familiar, others (hopefully!) less so; wherever possible the sources will be freely available online (though they may be in less than satisfactory editions).

The first will appear tomorrow (no spoilers, but anyone who knows me won’t be too surprised by the subject…), and then there’ll be a post every two or three days – should be about a dozen in total. I’ll finish up the month with a round-up of women and sources I found which I liked but didn’t quite make it into the series. (They’ll be tagged whm17.)

If you think that women’s history is something to be celebrated every month, I agree! But I like to do something extra in March, because it gives me an opportunity to seek out and share new online resources, and find women (and historians writing about women) who I didn’t know about before. And if you want more, you could: