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SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURY NEWSLETTERS

Part 1: Newsletters, c1564-1667, and related papers, c1607-1794,
from the Public Record Office

This joint venture microfilm project from Adam Matthew Publications and the Public Record Office brings together a strong body of manuscript newsletters from the State Papers Foreign and Chancery collections at the PRO.  The papers provide an English perspective of events in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Part 1 includes:

  • State Papers Foreign, France: SP 78/98-107;
  • State Papers Foreign: SP 101/10-12 and Chancery:
  • Master Harvey's Exhibits: C 115/102-109 (with news from Paris, Venice, Madrid, Brussels, The Hague and Zurich and including newsletters of Viscount Scudamore - Charles I's ambassador in Paris 1635-1639, Edmund Rossingham, John Pory, John Flower, James Scudamore [younger brother of Viscount Scudamore], Henry Herbert and Robert Palmer)

The majority of the material consists of letters either from or to the first Viscount Scudamore who was Charles I’s ambassador in Paris from 1635 to 1639.

Scudamore was an avid collector of newsletters in the 1620s and 1630s and the papers that survive are a valuable source of information about the political and social issues being discussed in England and Europe at the time.  Some of the best professional newsletter writers of the day reported back to Scudamore including John Pory, John Flower and Edmund Rossingham. Much of their correspondence appears in this collection.  Other prominent diplomatic and political personnel feature in the letters including the Viscount’s brothers, Barnaby and James, Roger and James Palmer (cupbearer and groom of the bedchamber to Charles I) and Viscount Basil Fielding (English ambassador extraordinary to the Princes and States of North Italy, 1634-9).

Part 1 draws on three different PRO classes SP 78, SP 101 and C 115:  The folders from the Secretaries of State files (SP 78 and SP 101) provide coverage of events in France and include the years 1635 to 1639, the time when Viscount Scudamore was Ambassador to Paris.  The majority of the letters originate from Paris or Versailles, but the series also includes reports from agents at Marseilles, Bordeaux and Lille, as well as items regarding the Palatinate.  Letters forwarded by Viscount Scudamore were sent back to England for the attention of the two Secretaries of State, Sir John Coke (1563-1644) and Sir Francis Windebank (1582-1646). Scudamore received assistance in this task from agents and translators such as Henry de Vic and the French Huguenot Réné Augier. The two Secretaries of State also sent instructions out to Scudamore. His general instructions of June 1635 outlined his duties as ambassador: to protect British merchants and shipping interests, to keep a watchful eye on French military preparations, and to reassure Louis XIII of Charles’s “readiness to proceed to a firm and good accommodation” and his “constant intentions for the peace of Christendom”.

The documents discuss a variety of political and diplomatic issues in France and Europe including:

  • the Resolution of the Sorbonne on the marriage of Princes of the Blood.
  • Cardinal Richelieu’s gift of a ship to the English.
  • the Treaty made with Duke Bernard of Saxe Weimar at St Germain.
  • French abuses against British shipping and long list of complaints presented to the deputy governor of Calais.
  • interference with British trade in Canada.
  • the role of the French ambassadors in London, the Marquis de Senneterre and the Marquis de Pougny.
  • the manoeuvrings of Charles’s wife, Henrietta Maria.
  • the restoration of Lorraine and the Palatinate.
  • the French attack on the Pearl off the coast of North Africa.
  • Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester’s mission as Ambassador extraordinary to Paris, and French efforts to drive a wedge of distrust between the two ambassadors.
  • Leicester’s negotiations for a French treaty.
  • quarrels between Leicester and Scudamore.
  • the Hamburg peace conference.

It is clear from the material that Charles was leaning towards an alliance with Spain at this time and Anglo-French relations were not on the best footing. These folders also include correspondence between Louis XIII and Charles I.

Whilst away in France Scudamore was always keen to have the latest news from the English court. He constantly worried about his standing at court. After Leicester’s arrival in Paris, Scudamore became increasingly isolated and his position at home in the English court was under threat. For this he relied on his friendship with Laud and Windebank, but these two men had become bitter enemies. From 1637 the documents reveal that Scudamore was anxious to secure new patrons at court.

The process of gathering intelligence, both published and more importantly unpublished news, analysing it and producing summaries or weekly advices was a time consuming task. In the years 1636 to 1637 information was sent to London from at least 26 different locations in and around France, in addition to the weekly (or more frequent) advices relayed from Scudamore, Leicester, de Vic and Augier. Newsletters were swapped with other ambassadors and agents throughout Europe. Grotius, the Swedish ambassador in Paris who was on friendly terms with Scudamore, gave him more information than any other ambassador. Perhaps Scudamore’s greatest coup was to procure a weekly letter from the household of the Comte d’Avaux, French Ambassador to the Hamburg conference. The source was tricked into thinking his information was destined for Duke Bernard of Saxe Weimar, not King Charles I. 

The Chancery files (C115) consist largely of the papers and writings of the Scudamore family, which were inherited by the childless Frances Scudamore in 1815 and transferred to the Public Record Office on her death in 1820.  The folders include newsletters from the following diplomats, government officials, professional newswriters, friends and relatives:

  • Oliver Fleming in Zurich to Viscount Scudamore, giving full coverage of Swiss and neighbouring news.
  • Basil, Lord Fielding, to Viscount Scudamore, written from Venice starting in September 1635, and then from Turin, April-December 1638.
  • Sir Arthur Hopton from Madrid about military intentions there and his regret that Scudamore is quitting his Paris post.
  • Sir William Boswell, English resident at The Hague.
  • Sir Balthazar Gerbier, English agent at Brussels, 1631-1641, and his secretary, Sidney Bere, with news of the war in Europe and one report on Marie de Medici.
  • Sir John Finet, Master of Ceremonies, sent news from London and the court whilst Scudamore was away in France, including reports on activities of French diplomats in London.
  • Thomas Chambers with news of the war in Flanders.
  • Amerigo Salvetti, Tuscan resident in London.
  • Georg Rudolf Weckherlin, secretary to Sir John Coke, and acting
    Latin Secretary, 1624-1642, and German interpreter, 1631-1642, provided foreign and some court news to Scudamore in 1634.
  • Robert Reade, secretary and nephew of Sir Francis Windebank, also provided home news between November 1634 and April 1636.
  • John Flower to Viscount Scudamore, some 138 newsletters covering the     period 7 November 1629 to 12 April 1634.
  • John Pory to Viscount Scudamore, December 1631 to December 1632.
  • Edmund Rossingham to Viscount Scudamore, some thirty newsletters for the period July 1634 to March 1635, and a couple immediately after Scudamore’s return from Paris, March and May 1639.
  • Peter Fitton reporting from Rome in 1637.
  • George Talbot writing from Venice in 1638.
  • Monsieur Fernande of Lyon, with intelligence from France’s eastern border and beyond, 1637-1638.
  • Walter, Baron Aston of Forfar, English ambassador in Madrid.
  • Richard Fanshawe, secretary of the English embassy in Madrid.
  • William Ellam with news from Genoa.
  • John Roberts from St Malo with intelligence on the French fleet.
  • Sir Thomas Roe, English ambassador to the proposed peace conference at Hamburg in 1638.
  • John Averie with information from Hamburg, including a copy of the articles of peace between Saxony and Sweden in 1636.
  • Ralph Starkey, an antiquarian and collector from Bloomsbury.
  • Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels from the summer of 1623, and a gentleman of the privy chamber, described by his brother as “dextrous in the  ways of the court”, an excellent source for court gossip, news on preferments, entertainments and  forthcoming events.
  • Roger and James Palmer, members of the royal household.
  • James Scudamore, younger brother of Viscount Scudamore, sending news of military campaigns in the Low Countries.
  • Barnaby Scudamore.
  • John Scudamore of Ballingham with news during his travels in France and    Italy, 1634-1637.
  • James Scudamore of the Middle Temple, another of the Ballingham Scudamores, who wrote to the Viscount from France and Italy in the mid 1630s.
  • Sir John Scudamore of Ballingham, 2nd Bt.
  • Richard Wigmore, Nathaniel Philpot, John Broughton and John Burghe

These files also include additional material from the Scudamore estate such as wills, deeds and financial accounts.  Whilst this microfilm project is primarily dedicated to newsletters, it was felt that to remove these items from the Chancery files would be counter-productive.  Therefore, the Chancery files have been filmed in there entirety and scholars will find this additional material provides valuable background knowledge to the Scudamore family and estate.

The newsletters contain material on diplomatic negotiations throughout Europe, especially relations with France, Spain, the Dutch, and the Habsburgs, the Thirty Years War, court intrigues, and details of significant meetings, conversations and treaties.  There is also much to be gleaned from these files on preferment and how news could be used for an individual’s political and social advancement.  Other subjects covered in the newsletters include patronage, conduct, deportment and social behaviour.

Scholars can contrast the range of newsletters gathered by Scudamore in the 1620s and the early 1630s, when he was focussed on local affairs and the search for preferment, with an insatiable appetite for information on how royal initiatives were received in other localities, news on contentious issues such as the forced loan, and a clearer understanding of unfolding events and the king’s policies, with those amassed in his later role as Ambassador in France from 1635 to 1639. During this time he kept faithfully close to the instructions of his brief, upholding the honour of his king, but finding himself too isolated back at court to be adequately supported, and rather rigid in his ways in rapidly changing circumstances, he remained too uncertain and lacking in confidence to exploit his position to his own advantage. He was ultimately undermined by Leicester, having been left largely in the dark in 1636 when English policy changed towards closer co-operation with France. Nevertheless, he developed an amazing network of contacts throughout Europe, and the difficulties of his position in France, his concerns about his own isolated position, and his unrelenting thirst for news, only seemed to fuel his intelligence gathering operations.  

Covering a range of political topics, the letters highlight the situations that were being given diplomatic attention at the time.  They provide a view of events in Europe from a visitor’s perspective as well as highlighting domestic political concerns both on the Continent and in England.  The frequency and regularity of the letters shows the importance of the task of sending updated news to England and the high profile of envoys working abroad.

The newsletters are an excellent resource for historians wishing to study the nature of political and news reporting in the seventeenth century. Much of the information was highly sensitive in nature and offers up revealing insights into secret negotiations, political and social intrigues, individual career ambitions, and court factions. John Pory advised Scudamore to commit his newsletters “to the safest secretary in the world, the fire”; we should be thankful that the Viscount for the most part did not follow this advice.                                                                                                                       



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