This edition of Elizabeth I’s Italian letters collects 30 carefully edited and translated texts written by, or issued in the name of, the queen, sent to domestic and international recipients. As Bajetta acknowledges, the corpus is slight when compared with the vast swathes of domestic and international letters issued in English, Latin and French. However, the value of the letters arises, in part, from Elizabeth’s own ‘penchant’ (p. xxi) for Italian. Upon reading this edition, one comes to recognize the personal and interpersonal significance of the language for personal and political diplomacy. The letters span the latter half of the sixteenth century. The earliest, from July 1544, is a letter sent to Elizabeth’s stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr, written when Elizabeth was 11 years old. Perhaps one of the better-known letters in the edition, in it Elizabeth expresses her desire to see her stepmother, following her ‘exilio’ (exile)—a term that Bajetta is careful to point out should ‘not be taken literally’ (p. 1), but is rather used figuratively to refer to previously missed opportunities. The latest letter dates from 1602. This is a demonstrative, ornamental diplomatic letter, of which the Italian is one of five versions (also in English, Latin, French and Portguese). It was sent to Wanli, Emperor of China, in the final years of Elizabeth’s life. These temporal poles characterize the diversity of letters that represent Elizabeth I’s Italian output. The edition foregrounds the integral role of royal correspondence for sixteenth-century international relations. This is an area for which we have an increasing body of scholarship and evidence. However, Bajetta’s edition provides a spotlight on the role of language choice in such communications. Italian was a relatively marginal language on the diplomatic stage. Its usage in Elizabeth’s correspondence therefore signals a belief in its pragmatic value for a particular communication. In the case of the letter to Parr, for instance, Bajetta proffers that Italian was a means ‘to attract attention to [Elizabeth’s] text’ in recognition of Parr’s own ‘interest in Italian language and culture’ (p. 2). In 1600, another holograph letter to Archduke Albert VII of Austria broke with ‘diplomatic protocol’—that is, French—‘to establish a rapport with Albert, whose French was, all in all, quite limited’ (p. 238). The code choice likely attests, in this latter case, to Elizabeth’s sincere desire to negotiate a peace treaty with Spain. Each letter in the volume is transcribed in its original spelling, and corrections, insertions and deletions preserved. In cases whereby the compositional heritage of a letter is evident from extant drafts and notes or instructions, these documents are typically transcribed as well, providing a mixture of English and Italian documents. Each letter is introduced with a summary of the relevant social and political contexts, with additional glosses clarifying issues of language or personnel in footnotes to the letter itself. The textual provenance of extant duplicates and drafts is also documented. In recognition of its modern readership, the edition provides English translations for at least the primary text of each piece of correspondence; for instance, a letter to Alessandro Farnese, Prince of Parma survives with two Italian drafts and a copy of the sent version. All are transcribed and annotated in the edition, but only the latter is translated. Nine letters are accompanied by black and white images of the manuscript originals, which provide a valuable illustration of the material under discussion. The epistolary evidence highlights the complexity of royal correspondence production. The collected drafts, corrections and archiving practices indicate the work of multiple ‘Hands’ and ‘Heads’ (p. xliii). As Bajetta points out, ‘no secretary for the Italian tongue was ever appointed’ during Elizabeth’s reign (p. xxxvi). Moreover, and rather curiously, Elizabeth’s former tutor and Latin secretary Roger Ascham appears to have played no role in the monarch’s Italian outputs. His successor, Sir John Wolley, however, established a team of scribes working to a house style, and Bajetta’s research indicates that this extended to Italian epistles as well. Bajetta’s close attention to material provenance suggests that Thomas Windebank—perhaps best known for transcribing the majority of Elizabeth’s translation of Boethius’ De Consolatione (1593)—played a significant scribal role in these documents, acting both as editor and copyist. Two other hands, Scribe B and Scribe C, reoccur within the corpus, both of whom Bajetta considers associates of Wolley’s secretariat. William Cecil, Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham, also leave their textual traces. Bajetta’s scrutiny of the draft documents, their emendations and annotations, reveals that letters ‘seem to go both ways between the office of the Principal Secretary and that of the Latin tongue’ (p. xliii), challenging the unidirectional model of secretariat draft to royal authentication. Importantly, the transcriptions do not attempt to homogenise the material. Instead, ‘this edition argues implicitly for allowing each document to proffer its own editorial principle’ (p. xx). This approach reflects current thinking regarding the early modern letter, which recognizes the epistle as an object, as well as a linguistic communicative artefact. The evidence of different drafts allows the usual ‘material process of letter-writing’ (p. xlv) to be reconstructed. Initial drafts were undertaken by those with a good knowledge of Italian, sometimes working from English draft texts or instructions. These draft documents were checked, sometimes by the queen herself, before the professional scribes copied the text for sending and/or filing. In some cases, specialists were sought to provide a particular tone (linguistic and material). A 1592 letter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany is in the hand of Horatio Palavicino, a Genovese merchant and financial negotiator for Elizabeth, who otherwise had no involvement with the secretariat (p. xlix). The hitherto unnoticed palaeographic provenance indicates the recognition, by Elizabeth’s secretaries, of the significance of linguistic and material details for the success of delicate international diplomacy. Of the 30 letters in the volume, only 7 are holograph originals, and the edition demonstrates the appropriateness of an embracing a broader conceptualization of royal Elizabethan letters than one dependent on handwriting. Elizabeth’s authority was ever-present in her epistles, signalled not only through her signature or the inclusion of a holograph salutation but in a letter’s style, such as that sent to the Doge of Venice in 1582, whereby the letter’s linguistic and material elaborateness ‘could hardly have been achieved without the Queen’s consent and active participation’ (p. lii). Building on previous scholarship concerning Elizabeth’s correspondence in English and other languages, Bajetta’s edition foregrounds the significance of the letter as a sixteenth-century diplomatic tool, whose pragmatic worth was bound up not only in the content of the letter but also the language and material properties. Elizabeth’s Italian correspondence was enlisted for the purposes of marriage negotiations with Archduke Charles; for the security of trade, such as olive oil from Venice; in the pursuit of peace, seen in letters to Alessandro Prince of Parma; and the maintenance of royal relations, such as the letter to Maria de’ Medici upon her marriage to Henri IV. Elizabeth I’s Italian letters is a fitting addition to Palgrave’s Queenship and Power series and signifies an important contribution to early modern and Elizabethan scholarship. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
The Review of English Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 1, 2018
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