The Newsy Baronet: how Richard Newdigate (per)used his newsletters

By Elisabeth Chaghafi (@mutabilitie on Talk)

Cross- posted on The Collation 

Large collections of books or manuscripts may be interesting for two reasons: the actual content of the items they contain, and also what they reveal about the collector who compiled them. The Folger’s Newdigate family collection of newsletters (Folger MS L.c.1-3950) is an excellent example of this. The inclusion of these newsletters in the Shakespeare’s World site has led to the transcription of a large portion of them, which in turn leads to a greater understanding of the collection as a whole. This collection is fascinating partly because of its sheer scale—well over 3,000 newsletters, most of them collected by Sir Richard Newdigate, 2nd baronet (1644-1710)—making it a fairly comprehensive archive of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century news. But the collection also contains quite a few clues about Newdigate himself and the ways in which he read and used his newsletters. Some of these traces of Newdigate’s news-reading habits (especially his underscorings) are easily overlooked. When the newsletters are studied in bulk, however, patterns emerge that allow modern readers to witness Newdigate’s strategies of gathering, comparing, and evaluating news from several manuscript and print sources.

Newdigate’s underscoring (Folger MS L.c.2589, 1r)

To begin by stating the obvious: the second baronet Newdigate was clearly a particularly avid reader of news—something of a news junkie, in fact. He subscribed to different newsletters that covered both domestic and international news, including the popular Dyer newsletters. Dyer was the most successful commercial provider of scribal news and had subscribers who lived as far away as Ireland.1 There appear to be no Dyer newsletters in the collection dated after the second baronet’s death, however, which may be an indication that his son (also called Richard Newdigate) did not entirely share his father’s news-obsession and allowed the subscription to lapse. In addition to the newsletters that now make up the collection, Newdigate subscribed to printed gazettes (several newsletters have traces of offsetting that show the gazettes were often sent in the same packet, although only one of them, L.c.2360 (2), survives as part of the collection).

The only surviving printed gazette in the Newdigate collection. (Folger MS L.c.2360 (2), 1r)

That Newdigate subscribed to multiple newsletters and gazettes might not be so very special, because the late 17th century was a news-hungry period, but Newdigate’s own annotations indicate that he not only used his newsletters and gazettes for his daily news fix but also carefully filed them away for future reference and sought to fill gaps in his collection in a quest for “completeness.” On L.c.420, for example, Newdigate wrote a note (later crossed out) that indicates the newsletter may at some point have been placed at the top of a box or bundle of newsletters: “News from Ian: 76/7 to Ian 77/8 but many wanting at first.” There are similar notes on several other letters, most of them in Newdigate’s handwriting.

The top of a year’s worth of news perhaps? (Folger MS L.c.420, 1r detail)

L.c.79 contains a list of “Gazetts wanting”—though all number are crossed out, so Newdigate may eventually have managed to get hold of them after all. In a few cases, Newdigate left a note on newsletters that had arrived without the gazette (which apparently cost an extra twopence), as on L.c.2352, which has a note that reads: “2d overchardg no Gazet in it.” He also endorsed some newsletters with their dates (and in some cases the type of newsletter, such as D. N for “Dyer Newsletter” in the endorsement of L.c.3155) and instructed a servant, who signed his initials “I. S.” or “I.Sc.”, to go over old bundles and double-check them for newsletters that were out of sequence or missing—two of his notes survive on L.c.1513 and L.c.14 (b).2

“few are wanting” from this bundle containing four years worth of news letters (Folger MS L.c.1513, 2v)

While Newdigate’s system for archiving his newsletters suggests they were important to him and he was keen to collect and preserve them, this did not necessarily make him any more scrupulous about keeping them in a pristine state than the average person. This collection contains the usual account notes, calculations, and drafts of leases and legal agreements that the recipients of early modern letters routinely used address leaves for—some of them in Newdigate’s own hand, while others are in the hand of a person who also docqueted newsletters in preparation for filing (perhaps his secretary). On one of the earlier newsletters, sent in 1674, (L.c.107), Newdigate went even further and covered the entire address leaf in a draft for a letter to an unnamed person, instructing him to do something about the appalling state of disrepair that several highways had fallen into, “so that no Coach nor horse man or woman could passe without much Danger and Difficulty.”3

Draft of a letter, written on the back of a newsletter (Folger MS L.c.107, 2v)

To one of the later newsletters (L.c.3156) he added the cryptic note “This they tore in the Nursery”—which makes slightly more sense if you bear in mind that the person who franked most of Newdigate’s non-Dyer newsletters from London (i.e. who exercised his privilege to send letters without postage, and thus saved Newdigate money), was an MP called William Stephens, who also happened to be his son-in-law. Thus, presumably the newsletter meant for Newdigate had accidentally been shredded by his own darling grandchildren, so he was forced to obtain another copy elsewhere!4 But Newdigate also occasionally used available space on newsletters to copy some poetry (Francis Quarles’ “My Sins are Like the haires upon my head” on the address leaf of L.c.192 and an elegy for the Earl of Rochester, who had died six months earlier, on L.c.1170), to make an—unsuccessful—attempt at turning his own name into an anagram, stumbling after “Grace and” (L.c.185) and memoranda to himself and others that had no obvious connection to the newsletters they were written on, such as a note to “Enquire for Mr Palmer Glover Leather seller at Mr Pelcoms a Milliner at the Golden Goat in Cheap side” (L.c.1329), or another one that shows Newdigate in pursuit of yet more sources of news in February 1695/6: “Mem let Iohn Merry enquire at Nuneaton ffor the News cald the Post boy & Flying post & borrow them at night. Sparrow may bring them up” (L.c.2589).

More news sources, more better, for Newdigate (Folger MS L.c.2589, 2v detail)

While we don’t know exactly who John Merry was, we do know that he was not the only person to keep Newdigate supplied with news. The newsletters contain references to a whole network of people whom Newdigate at some point employed to forward him newsletters, or sometimes copy them for him. For example, one newsletter in the collection (L.c.816) was originally addressed to a certain Ralph Hope in Warwick and subsequently redirected to Newdigate. This was not a one-off, however. The collection also contains a letter from Ralph Hope to a Mr Johnson (L.c.520) in which he outlines the reasons for a current dearth of news and refers to a gazette enclosed with the letter, suggesting Hope routinely acted as a news-agent. Additionally, the letter provides a clue that the note to Newdigate at the end of L.c.422, which is in the same handwriting, was also written by Ralph Hope—as were a number of the earlier newsletters in the collection, including, but not limited to L.c.230, which Newdigate endorsed “R. H Newes being a transcript of Sir Joseph Wiliamson.” Nevertheless, Newdigate was not always entirely happy with the service provided by Ralph Hope. One newsletter (L.c.114) contains several corrections in Newdigate’s hand (changing “Lord Vaughan” to “Arlington,” inserting words that the newswriter had apparently omitted and correcting “gagering” to “gathering”), followed by a reproachful note that reads: “Mr Hope Pray peruse this, & make sence of it if you can without the amendments above, & hereafter pray seal all the letters which you send to Your freind R N.” Ouch.

Newdigate, throwing shade (Folger MS L.c.114, 2r detail)

Richard Newdigate did not confine himself to adding snarky notes, memoranda, and bits of poetry to his newsletters, however. As his note to Ralph Hope indicates, Newdigate promptly amended errors. Thus he also corrected the date of L.c.10 (another one of Hope’s) from “ffeb the 2d” to “Ian: 31”; changed “yeild” to “yeilded” on L.c.2295; “the byeing” to “them by raising” on L.c.2386; “Buckingham shire” to “Bedford” on L.c.2584; and the misspelt place names “Torkey” and “Best” to “Turkey” and “Brest” respectively on L.c.2590.

Making an editor’s heart proud. (Folger MS L.c.2386, 1r detail)

Other notes reveal that Richard Newdigate was a critical reader of news as well as a pedantic one. In one case he questioned the newswriter’s ambiguous use of “here” in a news item, adding “qu. Where? at Vienna he meanes at London I suppose” (L.c.2352). At other times he responded skeptically to implausible stories, adding “qu very unlikely” to an unsupported report that a man was in the process of raising and clothing an entire regiment, all at his own expense (L.c.2575); sometimes he noted his intention to seek out more details about a story, as with a report involving a corrupt colonel in L.c.2427 (“Mem write Sir I K to know who is Corub Grubs Colonel & What becomes of this Affair”), or to find confirmation from an authoritative source. Next to a news item about the murder of a tax collector by an angry mob after a number of poor people had had their goods unlawfully seized because they were unable to pay their taxes (L.c.2585), Newdigate added the guarded comment: “This is very remarkeable, but I stay for a confirmation in the Gazet.” On a different occasion, however, when he was certain the newsletter was incorrect regarding Sir Nathan Wright’s appointment as knight of the shire for Warwickshire (L.c.2944) he did not hesitate to note his discontent and complain to the people responsible: “this a [sic] very great Untruth & so I have written the News writer Word RN.”

Top: Folger MS L.c.2944, 1r detail
Bottom: Folger MS L.c.2585, 1v detail

The letters also contain a large number of underlined passages and reader’s annotations in Newdigate’s handwriting that collectively reveal something about his reading habits as well as the kinds of news items that attracted his particular interest. One key interest that probably sounds familiar to a lot of modern news-readers was stories relating to crime: he underlined accounts of various murders and “self-murthers,” as well as robberies, assaults, and duels. For example, on a page from L.c.2375, Newdigate underlined and glossed “A Duell,” “An Assault,” “Duell.” He was also interested in news about lotteries and naval news, especially stories involving the capture or destruction of French ships, which he repeatedly glossed with notes such as “French losse” (e.g. on L.c.2289), “French prizes taken” or “French Misery” (L.c.2404), and he was keen to note instances of “French Treachery” (L.c.2377 and L.c.2589) or “Iacobite insolence” (L.c.2203 and L.c.2386).

“Jacobite insolence”—boisterous celebrations of James II’s birthday (Folger MS L.c.2386, 2r detail)

A few of the newsletters not only contain underscoring and brief annotations by Newdigate, but also a summary note on the address leaf that compiled all of the news items he had highlighted in one place. Examples of such notes can be found on L.c.2110 and L.c.2152, the latter of which begins with the exciting news that the Earl of Portland may have found a way of stopping his hiccup by “laying the entralls of Lamb to his stomach” (warm entrails, as Newdigate later amended, perhaps thinking that detail might turn out to be important).

A cure for hiccups? (Folger MS L.c.2152, 2v)

These summary notes suggest that Newdigate’s annotations and underlinings in the newsletters were not simply something he did habitually as part of the reading process, but that he actually wanted to preserve the most interesting pieces of information he had gleaned from the newsletters, so he would be able to refer to them again later. This can also be seen in L.c.2285, one of the most copiously underscored and annotated newsletters in the collection, dated 10 February 1693/4. The first page alone has four annotations by Newdigate (or five, depending on whether you consider “Englds Danger” part of the annotation on “French Insolence in H of Com” or not). What is striking about them is the peculiar way some of them are worded: “Baden Prince ill in Engld,” “Scot Dr dead this week,” and “Collonels New.” In all of these, as well as in “Highway men 3 seized” on the next page, Newdigate’s annotations are written in a format that brings the most important keywords to the front of the note, as you might in an index. L.c.2286, the next item in the collection is in fact a compilation of all the underlined bits of L.c.2285, with marginal glosses that are identical to Newdigate’s annotations (though “Englands Danger” has been dropped, perhaps because it was considered redundant).

Left: examples of Newdigate’s underlining (Folger MS L.c.2285, 1v)
Right: compiled list of note-worthy points (Folger MS L.c.2286, 1r)

While L.c.2286 is the only example of such a news digest in the Folger’s collection, and it is possible that Newdigate eventually abandoned the idea as too troublesome or not as useful as he had originally thought, the way in which Newdigate marked his newsletters after 1694 suggests that he continued to underline interesting passages with a view to later compilation. In L.c.2589, he labelled his annotations with alphabetical letters ranging from a-g, which only makes sense if he intended to write (or instruct someone else to write) an index or digest afterwards. On the second leaf of L.c.2379 (shown below) is a particularly good example of the style of annotation that gradually seems to have become Newdigate’s preferred format: a combination of underlining, numbering, and insertions that, when read in the correct sequence, became a lightly-condensed version of the news item in question. So for example, the second underlined news item on that particular page would have turned into “project by Doctor Chamberlaine to raise 2 Millions of money without burthening of the Subjects,” while in the last highlighted item on the page (continued along the margin), Newdigate’s version omits the gory detail of the two failed suicide attempts, arriving at just “Self Murther by a Stocking fframe knitter in Moore fields.”

Underlines and insertions (Folger MS L.c.2379, 2r)

Since this system of annotating would have required additional effort on Newdigate’s part, because he had to think about how to rephrase those news items and which words to insert as he was reading, it also only makes sense if either he or one of his servants at least intended to compile them into a news digest similar to L.c.2286 at a later point.

Collectively, Richard Newdigate’s many underlinings, annotations, and memoranda on his newsletters do two things. They provide a glimpse of the ways in which early modern readers in the late 17th and early 18th century obtained and consumed news as a commodity, and they also sketch out the picture of one particularly news-hungry individual: a newsy baronet who compiled and curated his own collection of news over the course of several decades. From his own notes, Newdigate emerges not only as an avid collector, but as a perceptive, critical reader who thought carefully about the news he consumed and preserved a healthy sense of skepticism even towards news he considered “remarkeable,” waiting for them to be confirmed through the gazette or through his private news network.

Elisabeth Chaghafi is based at Tübingen University. Her research mainly involves Edmund Spenser or book history (or both), but she also likes palaeography and moonlights as a researcher and moderator on Shakespeare’s World.

  1. On the address leaf of L.c.3395, the words “To Sr Richd Kenne” have been struck out, which points towards Sir Richard Kennedy, 4th baronet of Newtownmountkennedy (c. 1686-1710). Evidently Dyer’s list of subscribers was ordered by first name and the newswriter accidentally selected the wrong Sir Richard. For a detailed account of Dyer’s career see Alex Barber’s article “‘It is not easy what to say of our condition, much less to write it’: the continued importance of scribal news in the early 18th century.” Parliamentary History, v. 32, pt. 2 (2013), p. 293-316.
  2. “I. S.” may have been John Scott, whose name is written on the address leaf of L.c.1657. For other archiving methods see Heather Wolfe’s 2013 Collation post on Filing, seventeenth-century style.
  3. The letter is written on behalf of “my Master”—probably Newdigate’s father, the first baronet, who was still alive at the time. We can tell that this is the second Richard Newdigate’s handwriting, because it matches that of three signed letters in the Folger’s collection (), which he sent to his brother-in-law Sir Walter Bagot in 1676.
  4. The handwriting is less clearly identifiable as Newdigate’s than the other samples (although it looks similar to the somewhat shaky writing on L.c.2944), so an alternative explanation would be that the note was written by Stephens, who invoked the image of the newsletter being torn in the nursery by his children as a way of deflecting his father-in-law’s anger about the potential gap in his newsletter collection.

Shakespeare’s World launches Newdigate newsletters!

By Heather Wolfe (@hwolfe on Talk)

newdigate screen grab

Folger MS L.c.411, Letter to Richard Newdigate, 1676 December 16

Thank you to all those who transcribed the first batch of data on Shakespeare’s World–our thousands of pages of recipes and letters are now being edited and placed on Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO). The remaining recipes and letters will be available until they are completed, but next up we have a whole new dataset: an incredibly fascinating collection of nearly two thousand manuscript newsletters containing court and parliamentary news and foreign affairs from the Continent. These are part of a larger collection of 3,954 newsletters known as the “Newdigate Newsletters” because they were sent to three consecutive generations of the Newdigate family of Arbury Hall, Warwickshire, between 1674 and 1715. More information about this collection can be found in the finding aid. The newsletters were acquired by the Folger from Hodgson & Co. in the July 19, 1956 sale of 17th and 18th century books from the private library of the Newdigate family at Arbury Hall, lot 227.

Despite the fact that printed newspapers were circulating in the late 17th century, handwritten newsletters continued to be an important source for the spread of domestic and international news. Print and manuscript newsletters played different roles in the dissemination of information, and people often acquired both in order to widen their understanding of events and cut through the propaganda. Just like today, different sources might provide different accounts of an event.

Under the auspices of Sir Joseph Williamson (1633-1701), Secretary of State and Keeper of the State Papers, and his Chief Clerk Henry Ball, a small group of scribes produced approximately two hundred newsletters per week which were dispatched on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Newsletters issued by the Secretary of State’s office were principally delivered to government agents, but were also made available to an exclusive list of subscribers to which the Newdigates belonged. The topics covered in the newsletters are wide ranging, including court gossip, commercial and maritime relations in the English Atlantic and Indian colonies, the Popish Plot, and parliamentary controversy. The newsletters provide rare insight into events of notable historical significance, such as William Penn’s involvement with the early Quaker movement, the indictment of Titus Oates, and early accounts of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Northwest Passage, and Prince Rupert. These are all from the first 2,100 newsletters, which were transcribed by Philip Hines in 1994 and are available by subscription as part of ICAME (the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English). The last 1,850 newsletters, however, have not been read from beginning to end, so your transcriptions will provide historians with a first glance into the entire Newdigate archive, revealing the full contents for the years 1692-1715.

Things to look out for: One hundred and fifty newsletters within the Newdigate family collection are by John Dyer (1653?-1713). Dyer’s newsletters are marked in the Collection with the abbreviation “DNl” (for “Dyer’s Newsletter”). Dyer began writing newsletters as early as 1693 and was frequently brought before the House of Commons on charges of libel and sedition. Nonetheless, Dyer’s newsletters were widely disseminated and became one of the chief sources for English news on the Continent in the early eighteenth century. Several other annotated abbreviations appear throughout the collection, especially in the period 1708-1709: nNL (New newsletter), oNL and News Old (Old newsletter), and WNL (Williamson Newsletter). Offsetting (faded printed residue) on a number of the newsletters provides evidence that the newsletters were usually sent out with a one page printed newsletter, possibly the London Gazette. Also, as you’ll read below, we are interested in identifying deletions and mistakes!

Our first guest researcher for this phase is Dr. Alex Barber of the University of Durham. Alex spent time with the newsletters during a three month fellowship at the Folger, but there was no way he could read all of the untranscribed newsletters in that amount of time or systematically compare them to the many other collections of scribal newsletters in other repositories. Transcription of our newsletters will allow for easier comparison to these other newsletters and provide insight into the extent to which they were “curated” for specific recipients.

Alex produced an important article in the journal Parliamentary History as a result of his fellowship, but that was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of his (and our) fascination with the newsletters, and he returned again in January 2018 to examine them further. In his own words: “Despite the publication of the article there was a serious problem: there was too much material here and it did not suit my purposes at the time. I was writing an intellectual history of the freedom of the press and did not have the time to complete a thorough investigation of the archive. I returned to the Folger and the Newdigate archive in January 2018 with the intention of revisiting some of my ideas, to consider what shape a bigger project on scribal news might take and, most importantly of all, to consider whether I was still interested in the strange world of scribal news. The answer, thankfully, is yes. I am fascinated by the topic in general and by the Newdigate newsletters in particular. Re-reading them I was struck by sets of questions that, as yet, I have no answers to. I can identify easily enough the Dyer letters – but who wrote the other letters; are they official, do they come from the Secretary of State’s Office, or are they another form of commercial news? I love finding quirks in the letters: sections where there are substantive crossings out (can the obscured text be deciphered?) and mistakes. I am obsessed with the skill of the letter writer – the ability of the scribe to fill the page correctly and I am always fascinated by whether the individual scribes can be identified. In other words, whilst I love finding out information from the letters (and considering where the information comes from), I want to think about the archive as a cultural form and eventually work towards a bigger project concerned with the cultural power of news writing.”

Welcome to the team, Alex! In addition to Alex @awbarber, a warm welcome to another new guest researcher Nina Lamal @NINALA. Nina is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp. Her research focuses on early modern book and communication history. She is currently finishing the first bibliography of Italian newspapers entitled Late with the news. Italian engagement with serial news publications in the seventeenth century 1639–1700, which will be published by Brill. She is particularly interested in how English news sources may have influenced or been influenced by Continental sources. As well as our new guest researchers, the project will continue to be supported by our wonderful moderators @mutabilitie and @Christoferos, Folger paleographer Sarah Powell @S_Powell, Oxford English Dictionary editor @philipdurkin, and ShaxWorld co-investigators Heather Wolfe (Folger curator of manuscripts) @hwolfe and Victoria Van Hyning @vvh. We look forward to this next phase of Shakespeare’s World.

There are many other ways to conceptualise the importance of scribal news, perhaps most obviously how it was produced, distributed and consumed—and as ever ShaxWorld volunteers are encouraged to pursue these and raise questions and lines of research on Talk.

Welcome to the next phase of Shakespeare’s World….

By Heather Wolfe (@hwolfe on Talk)


Folger MS V.a.429: front cover

Welcome to the next phase of Shakespeare’s World! The results of your work with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s recipe books and letters has been truly astounding. Here’s what you accomplished: thousands of new transcriptions, antedatings added to the Oxford English Dictionary, hundreds of corrections made to our finding aids, successful experiments with historical recipes in the kitchen, and more. You have made this grand experiment a wonderful success so far. Who would have thought that so many people would be interested in reading English secretary hand! We are now busily encoding your transcriptions in TEI-P5 (basically, adding pointy brackets with descriptive words inside them to make them machine-readable) for inclusion in Early Modern Manuscripts Online Project.


Folger MS V.a.429: folio ii verso  ||  folio iii recto, Index. A-B

The timing for your work on the recipe books could not have been better, because here at the Folger we have started a massive interdisciplinary and collaborative research project funded by the Mellon Foundation called Before Farm To Table: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures. The sort of investigations we want to do during this project would simply not be possible without the transcriptions contributed by our many Shakespeare’s World volunteers. As part of Before Farm to Table, we are hiring a digital postdoctoral fellow who will make the transcriptions available in a variety of innovative ways so that a wide range of audiences can make use of them. In the meantime, through conversations with researchers and useful classifications on the Talk pages, you have provided the basis for a number of conference papers. So a big thank you to all of you!

A huge find for the OED – a startling antedating for partner meaning ‘spouse’

By @philipdurkin

When the Oxford English Dictionary got involved with Shakespeare’s World, we knew that these documents would provide invaluable data on Early Modern English in everyday, non-print use. What we hoped, but couldn’t be so sure of, was that this project would also produce some changes to the historical record of English so startling and immediately relatable that they can help explain to the general public why it’s worth doing this sort of painstaking work. Early in the project we found an example of the phrase white lie that pushed the record back by nearly two centuries, from 1741 to 1567. But we suspected that better was still to come, and now we’ve found it, with really breath-taking earlier evidence of partner in the sense of ‘spouse’.

When we revised the entry for partner for OED in 2005, we searched hard for earlier evidence of all eleven of its separately defined senses. One sense that couldn’t help but attract a lot of attention was the one that OED defines as (sense 5a):

A person who is linked by marriage to another, a spouse; a member of a couple who live together or are habitual companions; a lover.

Especially in the UK, this use of the word has considerable currency, especially as a convenient means of referring to the ‘significant other’ in a person’s life without any particular implications as to legal marital status, sexuality, etc. As OED notes, it is:

Now increasingly used in legal and contractual contexts to refer to a member of a couple in a long-standing relationship of any kind, so as to give equal recognition to marriage, cohabitation, same-sex relationships, etc.

Where does Shakespeare’s World fit into this picture? Back in 2005, the earliest example of this sense that OED’s researchers could find was from Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book X, line 128):

I stand Before my Judge, either to undergoe My self the total Crime, or to accuse My other self, the partner of my life.

Not only is this example from a core canonical literary author, it is also essentially self-explaining, as part of the longer phrase “the partner of my life”. Other early examples are similar, like this one from Tobias Smollett’s tragedy The Regicide in 1749:

What means the gentle Part’ner of my Heart?

But in 2017, Shakespeare’s World volunteers started to report that they were finding partner meaning ‘spouse’ in correspondence from the late 1500s and early 1600s. I must confess that my initial response was scepticism. I went back and searched text collections such as Early English Books Online again: there were one or two uses in phrases that could (maybe just) be seen as precursors of the use in Milton, but nothing to really suggest that partner had developed the meaning ‘spouse’ by this date. But Shakespeare’s World was definitely turning up the goods, like this example from 1577:

If by death my partner should lose her partner I shall prouide for her out of that litle a competent partners part. as touchinge my partners apparell I haue sent vnto her the graue determynacion of a taylor.


Pulling together the examples showed something else: there were lots of instances, but they were all from the correspondence of two people, Richard Broughton and his wife Anne (née Bagot), writing to members of their close family circle (especially Anne’s father, Richard Bagot). In fact, they began using partner in reference to one another before their wedding. Here is another example, from one of Anne’s letters:

My Euer good brother mr. Higines opinione was, that my Partner mvst bee att the bathe before maye, hie is gone thether & on satter day I shall heare Doctar shurwoodes opinione.

So what is going on here? Perhaps partner was in widespread use meaning ‘spouse’ in the late 1500s and early 1600s, and we just need more access to personal letters, diaries, etc. to give us more examples. But, if so, it’s surprising that we have no other examples from any other source – including other documents that have been transcribed on Shakespeare’s World, as well as other collections of correspondence from the period. Perhaps instead this was something that Richard and Anne Broughton innovated for themselves – it’s not so very surprising a development from the other earlier meanings of partner, and we can say fairly confidently that it was available as part of the potential meaning of the word. And, although Richard Broughton appears a rather unattractive figure from the historical record of his legal and business activities, the picture that emerges from the letters is of two people with a (linguistically) playful side, with anagrammatic respellings such as “Agant Bona” for Anna Bagot, and nicknames for various family members.

For the present, examples of use by both Richard and Anne have been added to the OED entry, with a note:

Early usage history: Quots. 1577 and 1603 come from the correspondence of Richard and Anne Broughton (née Bagot), who use the term repeatedly in referring to one another in correspondence with other members of their family circle. Such use has not been found elsewhere at this date.

But perhaps new evidence can change that picture again. If you find such evidence, please let us know – we’ll be as thrilled as you.

EMMO database update

By Victoria Van Hyning (Talk handle @vvh) & Sarah Powell (Talk handle @S_Powell)

In late October we sent an email to all registered volunteers about our progress on Shakespeare’s World, which included some information about how transcriptions get moved from the project interface into their longterm home, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s new Early Modern Manuscripts Online database (EMMO). This post is a recap for all volunteers who joined after that newsletter went out, and for those who aren’t registered Zooniverse users.

Over 5,000 pages have been fully transcribed by volunteers (thank you!) and we’ll be uploading more data to Shakespeare’s World soon. But the process of getting the crowdsourced transcriptions into EMMO is complex because of additional information that gets added to these transcriptions.

To date there are 15 letters (~50 pages) ready to browse, to which Shakespeare’s World transcribers have contributed, including: L.a. 625, X.c.50, L.a. 428, L.a. 400, L.a. 347, L.a. 914, L.a. 902, L.a. 2, L.a. 179, L.a. 115, X.c.15, L.a. 195, L.a. 594, and L.a. 561 (once you’re on EMMO you can alter the last few characters of the url to navigate to the appropriate page, for example deleting La625 and replacing it with La195). A further 23 items are under review and soon to be published, and many more are to follow.

EMMO provides three different kinds of transcription: ‘diplomatic’, transcribing exactly what’s there and representing the physical features of the text as much as possible; ‘semidiplomatic’, expanding special characters and rendering implied letters visible using italics, etc.; and ‘regularized’, making a more readable version by altering spelling and punctuation, lowering superscripts etc. For example, the same line in L.a. 2: ‘Letter from Ralph Adderley to Sir Nicholas Bagnall, Ireland, 1567 April 10’ is rendered as follows:

Diplomatic: ‘hitt wold be a good chastesmt vnto hym  ^neu{er}thelesse his gou{er}nemt I do Referre’

Semi-Diplomatic: ‘hitt wold be a good chastesment vnto hym  ^neuerthelesse his gouernement I do Referre’

Regularized: ‘it would be a good chastisement unto him  nevertheless his government I do Refer’

When we transcribe on Shakespeare’s World we want to capture as much information as we can see on a page, for example transcribing spelling and punctuation exactly as it appears, without modernization, and using the ‘insertion’ and ‘deletion’ buttons to capture text inserted over the line or that has been deleted, respectively. We use the keyboard buttons to capture common brevigraphs such as ye, which will appear as ‘ye‘ in the diplomatic version, but be expanded as ‘the’ in the regularized version of the text. This process of altering the base text created by volunteers means that Folger staff who work on EMMO, including Sarah (@S_Powell over on Talk), necessarily check the base transcription against the original manuscript image.

In addition to the three kinds of transcription, the EMMO team also creates an xml markup document for each manuscript, which essentially reveals the logic underpinning these transcriptions, and contains extensive metadata about each object. The site aims to offer a long-term home for the Folger manuscripts that we transcribe on Shakespeare’s World, and a comprehensive, fully searchable series of transcriptions that will make them discoverable online. It’s a long process, but we hope to gain speed in the coming year, and start to transfer more and more transcriptions onto EMMO. While crowdsourcing certainly speeds up the rate at which the base transcriptions are produced, there is still a lot of work to be done to publish the final versions. Once again, a big thank you to everyone who makes Shakespeare’s World and EMMO a reality.

Remember, remember?

By Victoria Van Hyning @vvh

On Halloween day, over a hundred members of the University of Oxford gathered outside the doors of the History Faculty to see a ‘reenactment’ of Martin Luther pinning his 95 theses to the doors of All Saints’ Church. A PhD candidate played Luther, complete with academic robe and a tonsure headpiece probably bought at a party shop. Someone else played Johann Tetzel, hawking indulgences and claiming they had the power to expiate all of our sins. Tetzel personified many of the ills against which Luther was reacting, for instance, the idea that time in purgatory could be minimized through the purchase of indulgences, rendering contrition and repentance unnecessary. Each actor exclaimed to the gathered crowd, garnering applause and knowing titters even though those of us at the back of the pack couldn’t hear much. Nonetheless, when Luther gingerly glued his theses to the door, we all cheered, perhaps a little ironically.


Here we were re-enacting a moment in history that probably never happened. Luther probably didn’t nail his theses to a door so much as send them to various opponents and powerful people in Wittenburg. Yet that imaginary act—that imaginary door—opened a much larger metaphorical door onto religious fragmentation and change in the sixteenth century that very much reverberates across the world today.

For me, as someone who studies some of the consequences of the Reformation that followed Luther’s circulation of his 95 theses, it was important to take an hour out of my research and writing schedule to witness this reenactment. I was curious to see how modern scholars and students, many of whom study the Reformation and its aftermath, would react to this event. Would it be celebratory, didactic, reflective? It was the first two, certainly. People eagerly snapped up the large format prints of the 95 theses that had been made by a local teacher of printing techniques, who had also set out his stall where people could print their own indulgences.

dig A freshly printed indulgence, and silver in hand.

As the theses ran out, and the print-your-own-indulgence queue thickened, I drifted away empty-handed, thinking about the difficulties faced by people on all sides of the religious debate in the centuries that followed. When I got back to my office I turned to our Shakespeare’s World data, created by members of this online community, looking for historical evidence of these struggles. Among the many thousands of pages that have been ‘retired’ by the aggregation system, after 3 or more people have transcribed each line, I found a transcription of a letter containing the plea of Sir Francis Norris, the Earl of Berkshire (1579–1622), on behalf of his fellow Catholics. He writes to James I:

How manie noblemen and worthie gentlemen most zealous in the Catholique Religion haue endured, some losse of lands & Livings, some Exile, others impri= sonment, some the effusion of blood and life for the advanncement of y<ex>ou</ex><sl>r</sl> blessed mothers right unto the Scepter of Albion, Nay whose finger did euer ake but Catholiques for y<ex>ou</ex><sl>r</sl> Ma<ex>ies</ex><sl>tie</sl>s present title & dominions? How many fledde to y<ex>ou</ex><sl>r</sl> Court offring them= =selfes as Hostastes for theire freinds, to liue and die in y<ex>ou</ex><sl>r</sl> gratious quar= =rell

 V.b.234 367–8 (Unedited transcription from aggregated Shakespeare’s World data, combining the transcriptions of multiple volunteers)

Norris’s current Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) entry does not stipulate that he was a Catholic, and I’ll be contacting the editors soon to suggest an amendment to his entry be made on the basis of this letter. Like amendments to the OED made using Shakespeare’s World data, these changes will hopefully be incorporated and point to the letter when it is hosted on EMMO.

Norris was not alone in his suffering. Countless Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists, Anabaptists, Fifth Monarchists, and many others faced persecution under monarchs and politicians of varying religious persuasions at various times. Monarchs themselves were not free to adhere to their faith of choice without criticism or even the risk of losing power. James II was notoriously suspect for his affinities with Catholics and rumours swirled around him regarding his allegiances, both religious and political.

The Luther reenactment in Oxford fell close to 5 November, Guy Fawkes Day in the UK, also known as Bonfire Night, which (in much of the UK and parts of Canada) ostensibly commemorates the foiling of a poorly-thought-out plot by radical Catholics to blow up Parliament in 1605. I say ‘ostensibly’ because many people are not familiar with the historical precedent for the bonfire (or rather, the recent historical precedent—Bonfire Night is in fact a Catholic appropriation of pre-Christian traditions long established in the British Isles).

Some communities in England burn effigies of the Pope, Guy Fawkes, and other ‘public enemies’ atop their bonfires. Kent in Surrey burnt Donald Trump in effigy in 2016.

The bonfire hosted by the Round Table charitable organization in Oxford does not burn an effigy. Instead, most years the ~30 foot pyre is topped with an empty chair, which opens multiple possible readings. Perhaps it is an invitation to mentally insert your own effigy or maybe the empty chair speaks to our remove from the events of 1605: maybe there is no need to ‘remember, remember the 5th of November’ as the old rhyme goes.


A grainy shot of the Oxford Round Table bonfire, pre-fireworks and lighting.

I was amazed to find, back in 2007, when I temped as a secretary at a private Catholic school, that parents and children came in on the morning of the 5th asking where they could stash the Guys that their children had made, which would be burned on a bonfire on the school grounds. These Guys were just guys to the children—part of a fun annual ritual—not a Catholic who had tried to blow up Parliament.

The Luther re-enactment and Bonfire Night continue to stir my thoughts about the ways in which cultures mis-remember, and also forget. What are your experiences of cultural re/membering and forgetting?

The significance of scripts

by Elisabeth Chaghafi, aka @mutabilitie

One of the first things you’ll notice with early modern manuscripts is that some writers use odd, unfamiliar letter-shapes which take a while to get the hang of. Soon afterwards you’ll probably notice that, for some reason, there are also early modern writers whose handwriting is actually quite legible and “modern”-looking. Broadly speaking, these early modern writers are using two different scripts: secretary and cursive. As far as writing goes, secretary is the script that was predominantly used for all sorts of official documents and formal, business-y correspondence, i.e. the kind of writing that busy and important people needn’t actually do themselves but only put their signatures to, hence the name “secretary”. When busy and important people did take the trouble to dash off a personal note in their own hand as a postscript, they often preferred writing in cursive – partly because they probably lacked their secretaries’ writing routine (that’s the downside of having somebody write out the bulk of your correspondence for you), but also to emphasise the personal touch of writing in their own hand, or to add weight to a request. Robert Devereux, the second earl of Essex (1565–1601) is a typical example of such a busy and important person. He would scrawl the occasional postscript, of course, but unless the recipient was the queen herself, the main part of the letter would normally be written by a secretary.

So much for the writing part. What about reading, though? Literacy levels in the sixteenth century are actually notoriously hard to estimate, because of the various factors involved. Not everyone able to read print was necessarily able to read handwritten letters; not everyone able to read cursive script was necessarily able to read secretary hand, let alone write it. This matters because the type of script in which an early modern letter is written says something about the context of the letter, and in some cases it may even reveal information about the letter-writer and/or the recipient. The letter L.a.241 is a particularly interesting case:

 L.a.241 leaf 1 recto

Folger MS L.a.241 leaf 1 recto

This is a letter from Richard Broughton to Richard Bagot, dated 27 June 1577, written about a month before he married Bagot’s daughter Anne. Broughton was a prolific writer and normally wrote in a flowing secretary hand (often using short forms, abbreviations and brevigraphs, to save time). About halfway through this letter, though, something odd happens. Instead of continuing in his normal handwriting, Broughton suddenly switches to cursive. A possible clue as to what might be happening here can be found in the contents of the letter. The letter begins with work-related matters, but then swiftly moves on to what is probably the main occasion for the letter: he is sending his fiancée—or, as he chooses to call her, his “partner”—a schedule of all his work commitments, “so that vpon viewe therof she may appoint the day / to her best liking & yours. for my self I am hers at half an houres warninge”. While this is an amusing image, the main idea of course remains the relatively boring business of fixing a date.

Once he switches to cursive Broughton also subtly shifts the focus from himself and his “Bysynes” towards the Bagot family, expressing his regret that he hasn’t been able to get a buck (a deer) for Richard Bagot’s son, before launching into a detailed account near the end of the letter, of how he has been rushing about having various items of clothing made for his “partner”, admitting that he partly ignored her wish of having the lot made in London:

…& if it be not so aptly & fitly made I trust my Partner will forgeue me my ^first offence. & for the charges of makinge which will be more then vsuall in the contrey, I challenge that as a thinge due for my part who hitherto enclyned my self to small thrift or sauynge nor do not meane at this instant to Begynne, till hereafter my Partner shall persuade me thereunto & whatsoeuer exces is bestowed, I must take the blame therof…

Which more or less translates to “I know she wanted to save a bit of money by having some of these clothes made in the country, but I’m a generous sort of chap, so I hope my future wife will allow me to spoil her a bit. After all, she can always teach me to be a bit more frugal once we’re married!”

Most of us would probably find it a lot easier to write in cursive, but in Broughton’s letter there are signs he is struggling a little with the unfamiliar script: the size and the shape of the letters are far less consistent than in the first half of the letter. The B in “Bestowinge”, in the penultimate line, is barely half the size of the two B’s in “By reason of Busynes” towards the top of the cursive section, and the three B’s all have slightly different shapes and proportions. Also, the writing gets progressively smaller towards the bottom of the page—not because there’s any need to save space (the verso of this page is left mostly blank)—so this is probably just an unintentional result of Broughton’s efforts to write neatly. He is also making a conscious effort to avoid abbreviations and brevigraphs, of which he is usually very fond, because they save time. In the cursive section he writes out words he would normally shorten, like “neuerthelesse”, “treasourer”, “persuade”, and “Partner”, although he does slip back into his old habits a few times, for example by indicating the n in “contrey” through a “dash” (known as a macron) and using a special p for “prouided”.

What is the purpose of these italic efforts? While the main addressee of the letter of course remains Richard Bagot, it’s clear from the contents that this section is aimed at Anne, and Broughton is doing his best to write legibly for her benefit. That way, she’ll be able to see for herself what a nice, generous and considerate man she is about to marry—so considerate, she won’t need to ask her father to read out the letter to her, and she’ll be able to think of the neatly written sign-off “Yours euer as his owne” as being at least partly meant for her.

It might be wrong to attribute only romantic motivations to Broughton’s decision to switch to a different script so that his future wife would be able to read some of the letter. At one level, there might also be an element of pragmatism involved; they’re not married yet and  it’s in his own interest to be nice to her so she won’t change her mind at the last minute. In fact, about a month earlier, in May 1577, Broughton had sent Richard Bagot a lengthy account of his financial situation and his relationship with his family in L.a.240. This letter’s purpose was presumably to help with the marriage transactions (written entirely in cursive, probably for Anne’s benefit). Whatever his motivations one thing that Richard Broughton’s script-switching does show is consideration for his readers who were not able to read his secretary hand, much like in this letter L.a.279, sent some 20 years later to his brother-in-law Walter Bagot and co-signed by Anne.


As in the earlier letter, the cursive script is hardly intended for the benefit of the main addressee, but for the other family members: Bagot’s wife Elizabeth, his sister Lettice, his young sons Lewis and Harvey, as well as Broughton’s own children, Mary and Robert (whom he calls by their nicknames, Mall and Robin). In this instance there is no alternative, pragmatic explanation for the choice of script. It seems from this evidence, and his unusual use of the term “partner” to describe his wife, that Richard Broughton was a devoted husband and family-man whose choice of script, as much as his words, reveal his interest in and affection for his family.

The poison pool

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trip to Buckfast Abbey to work on the hair shirt of Sir Thomas More. While I was there, I enjoyed walking in the grounds and seeing the beautifully cultivated gardens, including a medieval-style garden divided by trellises, box hedges, and trained fruit trees, and broken into four amply sized quadrants: culinary, medicinal, sensory and poisonous.


I’ve been to a few medieval and renaissance garden re-creations in my time. The beautiful grounds at the Cloisters Museum in New York City; the gardens at the Geoffrey House Museum in London, which exhibits a range of garden styles and domestic interiors from several centuries, and Rowntree public park in the city of York, England. There are countless others, I am sure. But never before had I seen a poisonous plants garden, and I was really impressed with the elegance and thought that went into this one.

How would you present a poisonous plants garden intended for the public to admire, without setting off a string of health and safety alarm bells?

The monks’ (or their gardeners’) solution is to place the plants within a raised planter at the centre of a pool of water.


Of course you could clear the water with a leap, but it’s just wide enough to discourage little wandering hands and feet, and it provides a buffer for the distracted adult, too. You can’t reach out and grab a berry or a leaf: the water, whether you notice it or just think of it as a nice additional feature, is an effective space between you and the plants. It implies these plants are not like the other plants.

What creative uses of space have you come across in libraries, museums or gardens that offer non-verbal signals like this one? How can architecture and layout tell us what to do and what not to do, without using signs like ‘don’t touch’ or ‘no flash photography’? Have you seen a poisons garden or transcribed an antidote in the recipes category over on Shakespeare’s World? What have you found? Tell us about it here or over on Talk.

The hair shirt of Sir Thomas More #catholic

I recently spent a few days at Buckfast Abbey, in the South of England, in order to conduct research and write an article about the hair shirt worn by Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England under Henry VIII between 1529–32.

2017-07-20 15.13.30

More is believed to have worn this penitential garment for much of his adult life. According to his numerous early biographers he was unusually devout for a lay person. The hair shirt has had a long journey over the centuries from England to the Low Countries, and back to England, through several monastic and diocesan owners, before it came to Buckfast, where it is on permanent public display in the chapel of the Holy Cross.

2017-07-21 14.33.04

More is reputed not only to have worn his hair shirt secretly for much of his life, he also reportedly carried out other ascetic practices that were unusual for a lay person. When he moved his family to Chelsea outside of London, he built a chapel for his private prayer and the use of a ‘discipline’, a device utilized by some Catholics of the time to repent for sins and as an aid to devotion. When Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Bolyn, More resigned his office in preference for a quiet life in which he would not be expected to aid in or even comment upon these proceedings. Yet More’s silence irked the king, and within a few years of his retirement he was imprisoned, tried and executed for treason by Henry VIII, who was angry with More for refusing to attend his wedding to Anne, and refusing to acknowledge Henry’s claim to be the supreme head of the Church of England.

In the century after More’s death a few competing stories sprang up about the hair shirt, and these are what I’m trying to unpick at the moment. One tradition has it that More sent the hair shirt to his daughter, the extraordinarily learned Margaret More Roper (1505–1544), who gave it to her equally learned sister by adoption, Margaret Giggs Clement (1508–1570), who later went into exile with her family to practice her faith, reportedly taking the hair shirt and other More relic-objects with her. Other traditions hold that Thomas More sent it to Giggs rather than Roper, who kept it until her death. Still other traditions state that he sent it to Giggs, who gave it to Roper, who returned it to Giggs, while another source claims that he sent it to his wife Alice. In any case, the hair shirt ultimately passed to Giggs Clements’ youngest daughter, Prioress Margaret Clement (1539–1612), a nun of the English convent of St Monica’s, founded in Louvain during the period when it was illegal to practice Catholicism in England. The nuns of St Monica’s claim to be More’s spiritual heirs through Margaret Giggs and her daughter Margaret Clement.

The hair shirt remained in Prioress Clement’s community and the communities descended from St Monica’s up until the 1980s, by which time most of the exiled English convents had returned to England. When I first began my doctoral studies in 2010 the exact whereabouts of the hair shirt were not clear. I recently discovered that when the modern-day St Monica’s convent closed, the hair shirt went to the Diocese of Plymouth for safe keeping. In 2011 it was transferred to Buckfast at the request of Abbot David Charleswell who arranged for it to be put on public permanent display at Buckfast starting in 2016. I found this last bit out out one day whilst googling, and I simply had to go to Buckfast to see the hair shirt for myself! It was amazing to see an object up close and personal that has a link to the devotional practices of Thomas More and his descendants. This object is part of a long and complex history of Catholic identity and devotion, and it’s interesting from a historical/literary perspective to see how it continues to have meaning nearly 500 years after More’s execution.

2017-07-21 14.32.33

Those of you who have participated on Talk know I’m interested in any mention of Catholics and Catholic practice in the letters and recipes we transcribe on Shakespeare’s World. You can use the #Catholic hashtag to let me know about any material relating to Catholics, nuns, papists, recusants, priests, etc. etc.! And #womanwriter to let me know when you’ve found a woman writing in any genre. Have you found any references to penitential practices? Let me know!

-By Victoria Van Hyning (@vvh/@snakeweight)

Transcription aggregation update

Many of our regular contributors will have seen (and indeed been interviewed for!) this article by Roberta Kwok for the New Yorker back in January of 2017. Roberta briefly describes the algorithm that merges the multiple transcriptions of pages by independent volunteers in Shakespeare’s World into a single transcription for a given page. The algorithm is called MAAFT, and is typically used to align genetic sequences. The idea behind this approach to transcription is that it allows us to combine transcriptions of smaller strings with longer strings in the same line. So, if I transcribe only one word on a line, and @parsfan and @mutabilitie transcribe the whole line, my small piece will still be counted by being compared with theirs and then slotted into the right place in the transcription. Zooniverse’s former data scientist and I decided to implement this method in an effort to enable people to contribute even small transcriptions to this relatively difficult project.

The other reasons we went for the MAAFT approach is that it means that anyone to take part in the project who wants to, without having prior paleography training. It’s ok if you make mistakes, because multiple people are transcribing the same material, so if you’ve transcribed a few letters correctly and some incorrectly, the correct ones will get taken through to the final transcription. This method of combining multiple volunteers’ efforts stems from the same scientific practices that underpin Galaxy Zoo, Penguin Watch, and all other Zooniverse projects, and is vital to the acceptance of crowdsourced data by experts in the sciences, humanities and museum and library fields. Enabling independent crowdsourcing, and then putting the results together is supposed to create a rigorous dataset, and I’m sure that it will for Shakespeare’s World in the near future, but we’re in a holding pattern until September, when a new data scientist will start working to unpick and rebuild our text aggregation process.

Rest assured that we’re not losing anyone’s work—it’s all saved in a database—but we’re not currently able to piece the separate transcriptions together reliably. This is why, in part, we have not yet published much data in the Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) database at the Folger. However, as Philip announced in previous posts on this blog, quite a few interesting finds are already being incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary, and he says that Talk is the most effective platform for getting crowdsourced updates into the dictionary. Meanwhile our guest scholars from the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) have also been gathering invaluable data for their work via Talk, and many of you have been helping me gather #catholic and #womanwriter sources.

So, for now, one of the best ways to contribute to Shakespeare’s World is to hop on Talk and use those hashtags, for example #paper, #oed, #Catholic and #womanwriter. We hope to have our aggregation sorted soon, and the transcriptions freely available to all.

-By Victoria Van Hyning, @vvh

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