Life in Elizabethan England Next

Letter Writing

The Elizabethans and their friends do not seem to have settled on any one form of salutation for letters, such as "Dear Mom..." Overall, the conventions of letter writing were as formal as if they were speaking in person, or perhaps even more so!

Perhaps the most nearly standard brief opening is something like: My humble duty remembered...

Salutations are often long and full of blessings and humility. The date is usually at the end.

In these examples, I have left the punctuation more or less intact, except that they often used a virgule (/) instead of a period to indicate a full stop. They also used commas with considerable abandon, and they do ramble on. The word (sig.) indicates the signature.

Note: Numbers are frequently given in lower case Roman numerals, with the last "i" in a number written as a "j". For example, viij March.

Short notes for special occasions:

To a very noble mother.
Right honourable, with our most humble and dutiful thanks for your ladyship's bountiful goodness towards us all times, my wife and I have made bold to present your Honourable Ladyship with such poor and homely things for a simple new year's gift as this place can afford, beseeching that according to your ladyship's accustomed goodness, you will vouchsafe them in good part; and we shall pray most earnestly to God almighty to send your honourable ladyship many happy healthful new years.

The almighty preserve your ladyship in health and send you a good and comfortable end of all your great troubles and griefs. Wynfield this Tuesday the v of November at viij of the clock at night 1588
Your honour's most dutiful bound obedient servant
(sig.)

The Privy Council to Master William More
(The direction reads: To our very loving friend W. More, Esquire)
After our very hearty recommendations we have thought meet, for good consideration, to require you to signify unto us by your private letter, whether the Earl of Southampton, at present remaining in your house, do come to Common Prayer or not; and in case he have not so done already, then we require you as of yourself to move and persuade him thereunto, and of that he shall do or hath done, and shall answer thereupon, we pray you to advertise us with convenient speed. And so we bid you farewell. From Windsor, the xviij of October, 1570
Your loving friends,
(signed by) North, Bedford, Leicester, Howard, Cecil, Knollys, Mildmay, & Crofts.

Opening Lines

To a relative
Good uncle, after my heartiest commendations to you and to mine aunt...

To a friend
After my very hearty commendations...

To a mother
My humble duty remembered...

To a noble man
Right Worshipful, My humble duty remembered, hoping in the Almighty of your health and prosperity which on my knees I beseech him to long to continue...

Closing Lines

To a noble relative
Your lordship's assured friend and kinsman
(sig.)

To an equal who has done (or perhaps been asked) a favor
Thus indebted to you for your pains taken for me, I bid you farewell. Sprowston, this xx of April. Your friend,
(sig.)

To a friend
Thus I commit you to god's good protection.
From Hampton Court the 2d of January 1592. Your very assured friend
(sig.)

To a parent
And thus with commendations from my partner and sister with thanks for our good cheer, and not forgetting Aunt Lettyce, with blessing to Mall, nephews Lewis, Harvey, and Nick, and Nan, with our humble duty to my mother we commit you to God this Saturday
17 December
(sig.)

To the Queen
And so I bid your Grace and the rest heartily farewell.
From my house in the Strand this xix of March, 1596, Your assured loving friend
(sig.)

To a noble mother
And so humbly craving your ladyship's daily blessing to us both, we most humbly take our leave, Tutbery the last of December 1605
Your ladyships humble and obedient son
(sig.)

To a brother
I pray you remember my duty to my good mother. This with my kindest commend to you and my good sister, wishing you all happiness, I rest your loving sister
(sig.)
Court at Woodstock
this 26th August 1599

To a kinsman
Your very assured loving friend and kinsman
(sig.)

To a mother
With the remembrance of my humble duty unto you, I humbly take my leave and rest,
Your dutiful and obedient son,
(sig.)

Sources

Dawson and Kennedy-Skipton: Elizabethan Handwriting
Rowse: Southampton, Shakespeare's Patron
The Lisle Letters, Muriel St. Clare Byrne, ed.

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MaggiRos
27 March 2008 mps