History in Manuscript: Letters and Documents from a Distinguished Collection

History in Manuscript: Letters and Documents from a Distinguished Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 75. Sir Thomas Hoby | Autograph manuscript letterbook as English Ambassador to France, 1566.

Sir Thomas Hoby | Autograph manuscript letterbook as English Ambassador to France, 1566

Lot Closed

April 13, 02:14 PM GMT


30,000 - 50,000 GBP

Lot Details


Sir Thomas Hoby

Autograph manuscript letterbook entitled "L[ett]ers wrytten by Sr Tho: Hoby knyght when he was Embassadoure Lydger in France" in 1566, 

containing retained copies of letters to Queen Elizabeth I (3), Robert Cecil (12), jointly to Cecil and the Earl of Leicester (one), and to the Earl of Leicester, Lord Paget, and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton (one each), also with memoranda and reports including "The order and maner of our Audience" with the King and Queen Mother (8 May), "Occurrentes to my l. of leicester and mr Secretary" (a record of daily events at court from 24 May to 10 June), "The maner of the Popes Nuntios audience" (1 June), and "Articles sent by the king ult[im]o Maii, to the Cardinalles [...] and certain other Bisshoppes assembled at St Germane de Pres", 64 pages, 9 April to 21 June 1566, with title and marginal notes in the hand of Hoby's son Thomas Posthumous Hoby; with a scribal copy of "A lettre of advise wrighten by Robert Erle of Essex unto Roger erle of Rutlande" (the First Letter of Advice, probably substantially written by Francis Bacon [CELM EsR 180]), with marginal comments by Thomas Posthumous Hoby, and also scribal copies of letters by Thomas Posthumous Hoby to William Cooke, Elizabeth Russell (née Hoby), and Roger, Earl of Rutland (two), all dated 1595; altogether 87 pages, folio, 1566-c.1590s, disbound in three gatherings; wear and staining, especially to outer leaves of each gathering

AN ORIGINAL ELIZABETHAN DIPLOMATIC LETTERBOOK. Sir Thomas Hoby (1539-66) was one of the most celebrated figures of the early Elizabethan period, renowned as being "many wayes well furnished with learning, and very expert in knowledge of divers tongues" (Roger Ascham), his hugely popular translation of the Book of the Courtier introduced generations of English-speakers to the great model of courtly behaviour. His appointment as Ambassador to France required all his diplomatic finesse, as became apparent before he even arrived in Paris: Hoby reports to Leicester and Cecil that when he reach Calais a Ffrench soldier "with his Arquebuse shott through our flagg in two places, one in the read cross, an other in the white". Unfortunately, Hoby died on 13 July 1566, after just three months in post. This manuscript was evidently retained by the family - it contains notes and additions by his younger son, Thomas Posthumous Hoby (1566-1640), and its existence was unknown before its appearance at auction in the 1980s.

THREE LETTERS IN THE CURRENT MANUSCRIPT ARE OTHERWISE BELIEVED LOST: the letters to Queen Elizabeth of 16 May and 21 June, as well as the letter to the Earl of Leicester of 15 May. There are also frequent differences between the texts recorded here and the original sent letters (which are found in National Archives SP 70/83-84).

These letters describe the French court at a fragile moment: it was a period of "armed peace" between Catholics and Huguenots, whilst the young King Charles IX was dominated by his mother, Catherine de Medici, and the letters make constant reference to the bitterly divided factions at the French court. Hoby makes careful observations of courtly marriages that calculated to cement alliances, carefully notes who was seen most frequently in the royal presence, or and also reports more ominous signs such as an assassination plot against the Huguenot leader Admiral d'Andelot de Coligny, and the growing threat of private militia ("...the nobilities great traines of both factions encreasing secretly within this Towne, So had it liefe to have coste some of the best protestantes of Fraunce their lives..."). Hoby's support naturally fell with the Protestants and he had several meetings with leading Huguenots including the Queen of Navarre and her young son, the future Henri IV ("...a proper, wise and forwardly childe...")

Hoby gives careful and detailed reports of his meetings with the Queen Mother and the King. He found the King "in a chaier by his beddes side" and reports how, when Hoby presented him with his "letters of credence" the King "stretching it out plaine to be read, tore out a good peece of it, wherat the Cardinall of loraigne smiled and seemed to make a scoff" - a clear sign of Lorraine's antagonism to the English Queen. In a later meeting with the Queen Mother he brought up English concerns about the build-up of naval forces on the Normandy and Breton coasts, which he is assured are solely "for safeconduct of Merchauntes", but which bring diplomatic words of gratitude for Elizabeth's "franke dealinge" in raising the subject.

It is clear from Hoby's letters that squabbles with England were not a priority in Paris at the time. Mary, Queen of Scots, and her claim to the throne of England, had been a major issue at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign but Mary had lost much of her appeal in Paris following her remarriage ("...The Scottish Q: husband is here mervuoilously misliked for his wavering and unstaied deedes..."). Above all, this was a country on the brink of civil war. Hoby gives ample evidence for this from reports on rumours of massacres in the provinces to an inflammatory speech by the Papal Nuncio to the Queen Mother, advising her on "seeking by all meanes possible to purge your selfe of this ravening vermine of sectaries and heretiques (as he called them) which like Caterpillers utterly subvery and destroy your woorthie Realme".


Christie's, London, 3 December 1986, lot 279