Queen Elizabeth I to Bertie Peregrine, thirteenth Baron Willoughby, 1588

This week we present a letter from Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) to Bertie Peregrine, thirteenth Baron Willoughby (1555-1601) the Governor of Brill, the Netherlands in 1588. The letter is one of the highlights of the Marseille Middleton Holloway collection, recently entrusted to the University.

Queen Elizabeth I to the Lord Burgh, Greenwich, 26 April 1588 (ms39022)

Written in the year of the Spanish Armada, the letter is signed across the top by Elizabeth I. It is dated at Greenwich, 26 April 1588 and orders a cessation of hostilities. The letter is signed Elizabeth R” for “Elizabeth Regina,” “Regina” meaning “Queen” in Latin. One can also observe a number of flourishes that accompany the signature, particularly ones that extend from the “E”, the “z”, the “b”, and the “R” in her name.

Whereas by l[ett]res
lately addressed vnto o[u]r Commissioners sent to treate about the peace
wee find some likelihood that the Duke of Parma may be drawen to
yeald to a Cessation of armes during a certeine time to bee agreed vpon
between the Comissioners on both sydes, and that the Townes of Bergen
ap zome, Ostend, and the twoe Cautionarie townes shalbe compre=
hended in the same, with promise that nothing shalbe attempted by anie
of the kinges forces in those Contries against the said Townes, so as ye
like may bee observed also by our forces and garrisons placed in the said

England had been in a state of semi-war with Spain from the late 1570s, supporting the northern, largely Protestant provinces of the Low Countries against the rule of Catholic Spain, whilst trying to regain Calais. On 10 August 1585, Elizabeth had forged an alliance with the United Provinces of the Netherlands – a group of seven states that had broken away from Spanish rule. The treaty pledged financial and military support for the Dutch rebels against Philip II of Spain.  As part of the treaty, the Dutch rebels handed over the key strategic towns of Brill and Flushing to Elizabeth as security for the loan she had advanced to help the Dutch fight the Spanish and their ally Alessandro Farnese, duke of Parma, Spain’s captain-general in the Low Countries, who was seeking bases for the ‘invincible Armada’, which would sail the following year.

Elizabeth I by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1588. NPG 541 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Elizabeth’s military operations had proved a major irritant to Philip II.  In October 1585 Francis Drake launched raids on villages in Galicia in northern Spain and Philip accepted a papal invitation to undertake the conquest of England just two weeks after Drake’s forces attacked Galicia. Throughout 1586 preparations were made to amass men, ships and munitions and the Armada was ready to set sail in 1587. After the dispersal of the Armada in early August by fireships and weather, Parma’s army was diverted to fight in France. The cautionary towns were eventually restored to Holland by King James I in 1616 for £250,000.

The engraving is by Isaac Oliver (c. 1565-1617), who studied miniature painting under Nicholas Hilliard.

This letter was acquired by Holloway from the sale of the collections of the politician and collector Ralph Bernal MP (1783-1854). His large and distinguished collection of paintings, furniture, books, porcelain was sold at auctions in 1824, 1855 and 1889. Many items were bought for the newly established Victoria and Albert Museum.

Gabriel Sewell
Assistant Director of Library Services (Special Collections)

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