ccd-leicesterhead1.jpg (9571 bytes)Dwight Peck's reprint series

Leicester's Commonwealth: The Copy of a Letter Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge (1584) {file 6}

Scanned and reprinted from
Peck, ed., Leicester's Commonwealth (Athens and London: Ohio University Press, 1985).

Leicester's Commonwealth

The Copy of a Letter
Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge to his friend in London, concerning some talk passed of late between two worshipful and grave men about the present state and some proceedings of the Earl of Leicester and his friends in England.

Conceived, spoken and published with most earnest protestation of all dutiful good will and affection towards her most excellent Majesty and the realm, for whose good only it is made common to many.



Related Documents


Shortly after the Commonwealth's appearance, official action was taken toward its suppression. On 12 October 1584 a royal proclamation was issued from Hampton Court, apparently directed against Leicester's Commonwealth, Allen's Defence, and Leslie's Treatise Touching the Right. The present text is based on S. T. C. 8146 (Folger Library 256); see also Hughes and Larkin, Tudor Royal Proclamations, no. 672.

The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, being given to understand that divers false, slanderous, wicked, seditious, and traitorous books and libels are covertly and in secret manner dispersed through this realm by divers seditious and traitorous persons, tending not only to the defacing of true religion now established within these her Highness' dominions, but also most traitorously and injuriously to slander the present most happy and quiet government with cruelty and extraordinary manner of proceedings in the due execution of justice, and withal most detestably and slanderously to reproach her most renowned and dear father, the dishonor or note whereof doth and cannot but touch herself as near as her Highness' own life, and so she taketh it. In some of which their most shameful, infamous, and detestable libels they go about to reproach, dishonor, and touch with abominable lies (as is well known to the whole realm) not only many of her most trusty and faithful councillors but also her Highness' judges and ministers of the law, greatly touching thereby her Highness' self in her regal and kingly office, as making choice of men of want both of justice, care, and other sufficiency to serve her Highness and the commonweal. And further, in the said books and libels they use all the means, drifts and false persuasions they can devise or imagine to advance such pretended titles as consequently must be most dangerous and prejudicial to the safety of her Highness' person and state (which the Lord long preserve).

Her Highness, foreseeing that the authors and dispersers of the said books and libels do by these wicked and indirect means seek most traitorously to render and make both her Highness and her most gracious government odious and hateful both abroad and at home, and having of late found, by plain and manifest means and proofs, that their purpose and chief intent to bring in obloquy and hatred her Majesty's principal noblemen, councillors, judges, and ministers of justice is as much as in them lieth to slander, impeach, and deface her Majesty's most happy government, and thereupon to breed some troubles within this realm, whereby their unnatural, devilish, and traitorous practices both against her Majesty their natural sovereign and the realm their own native country may take their desired effect, hath therefore thought meet that some order should be presently taken for the preventing and suppressing of such mischiefs as otherwise through ignorance of the truth might ensue thereby.

And therefore her Highness doth by this her Majesty's proclamation straightly charge and command that all such persons to whose hands any of the said books or libels either hath come or shall hereafter at any time come, do presently with all convenient speed, without showing the same to any person, deliver it to some one of her Highness' Privy Council if any such be within twenty miles, and if it be above that distance of miles from the Court, then to the custos rotulorum or to his deputy of the same shire where the party shall be that hath or shall have any such book or libel, and the same custos rotulorum or his deputy to whose hands any such book or libel shall come shall presently and safely send the same to the lords of her Majesty's most honorable Privy Council. And lest that any evil-disposed and affected person should maliciously and undutifully make any wrong or sinister construction of this her Majesty's meaning towards such as, moved with that duty and reverence that appertaineth, shall make delivery of any the said books and libels, her Highness' pleasure is, and so doth hereby signify to all her loving subjects, that they nor any of them shall be molested, impeached, or troubled for the having or receiving of any of the said books or libels, so as they do deliver the same according to the tenor and true meaning of this present proclamation, and so as it do appear that they have been no setters forth, dispersers, maintainers, or authors of any of the said books or libels. And in case any of the said parties that either hath or at any time hereafter shall have any of the said books or libels shall not make delivery thereof in sort as is before specified, then her Highness' further pleasure and express commandment is that the party or parties so offending shall be committed to prison, there to remain without bail or mainprize until order shall be taken by the lords of her Majesty's Privy Council for the proceeding against such offenders for such their offense, according to the nature and quality of the said offense.

And her Majesty's further pleasure is that all merchants, masters of ships, officers of ports, or any other that shall be bringer into this realm of any the said seditious books or libels or a disperser of the same, or shall hereafter be any way privy to the making, bringing in, or dispersing of them or any of them, and shall not immediately discover such offender or offenders to the next justice of the peace where such offense shall be committed (whereby the offenders may be apprehended and brought to be forthcoming to receive such punishment as his said offense shall deserve), that then such person or persons so offending shall be committed to prison, there to remain without bail or mainprize as aforesaid, until he be proceeded on according to justice.

And for the better execution of the said proclamation, her Majesty is pleased that all such persons as shall detect any of the said offenders, whereby they may be forthcoming to receive condign punishment according to their demerits, shall have the moiety of such forfeitures and penalties as shall be laid or inflicted upon such offenders so by them detected for such their offenses. And in case any mayor, justice of peace, or other public and inferior officer shall be found remiss in the due execution of the said proclamation, that then the said party or parties so offending shall also be produced before the said lords to receive punishment for that contempt and remissness used in that behalf in such sort as shall appertain to the nature and quality of the same offense.


Nothing is known about the process by which King James was induced to contribute his authority to suppression of the Commonwealth, nor is there other evidence of the book's circulation in Scotland. The proclamation of 16 February 1585 is known only in a contemporary copy now in the British Library (Additional MS. 31,897, fol. 9). The handwriting is extremely difficult to read, the text heavily abbreviated and in good part in dialect, and therefore the following modernized transcript is incomplete and not altogether reliable. Illegible words are noted by ellipses.

James, by the grace of God King of Scots, to our . . . messengers, our sheriffs in that part . . . . . . and sundrily specially . . . , greeting.

Forasmuch as we are credibly informed that there are divers slanderous and infamous books privily brought in and publicly dispersed in sundry hands within our realm, full of ignominious and reproachful calumnies devised and set out by some seditious persons of purpose to obscure so far as in them lies the honor and reputation of our right trusty and right well-beloved cousin the Earl of Leicester and others, counsellors of our dearest sister and cousin the Queen of England. And remembering how in the time of our captivity at Ruthven, the very like was published and set out upon our right trusty cousin and counsellor James, Earl of Arran, our chancellor, only to move our subjects to insurrection and rebellion against us, howsoever the same appeared always to respect our own person, as the . . . do the person of our dearest sister, . . . under that prolept[?] and undoubted alteration which they mean and wish to her estate and country[?]. And . . . understanding in what commendation all princes ought to have the honor of all foreign princes, specially with these with whom they are [brought?] up in mutual friendship as we are with our dearest sister, with whom God in religion, nature in blood, and an . . . [disjoined?] as the rest of the . . . in habitation has willingly received[?] us and . . . united and concerned us in an inviolable[?] and steadfast amity, respecting that with all the particular goodwill and lawful friendship borne to us and uttered to our messengers and [shryvalties?] at all times by our said trusty cousin. . . . . . . Therefore and we . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . by open proclamation at the . . . . . . of East Sterling, Perth, Dundee, and various our . . . . . . made and given all and sundry our lieges and subjects who . . . . . . or . . . to hereafter receive any of the said reproachful books entitled A Letter of Estate Written by a Scholar in Cambridge, that they immediately without all delay bring . . . and deliver the same to our secretary to be cancelled and destroyed as ignominious and infamous under the pains that are in our act of Parliament made about the reading and concealing of slanderous and infamous libels against us, our progenitors[?], and council[?] . . . . . . to . . . if any of the said books may be verified to have been in any of their possessions the time of this our proclamation and the same be not immediately and with all diligence[?] . . . and delivered as said . . . , the said penalty shalbe executed upon them, their lands and goods, withall . . . and . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . under our signet and subscribed with our hand at Holyrood House, the xvi of February, . . . . . . year 1584 [i.e., 1585].


Concerned by continued circulation of Leicester's Commonwealth, in June 1585 the government wrote to the officials of London and various counties (perhaps all) demanding stricter suppression of the tract and testifying in its own and the Queen's name to Leicester's innocence and good service. The letter's astute interpretation of the Commonwealth's implications speaks for itself. The text is from S.P. 12/179/44 and 45, the former of which is endorsed by Lord Burghley as "a copy of a letter written by her Majesty's commandment to the Mayor of London, in defense of the Earl of Leicester" and dated 20 (or 26?) June 1585 (in no. 45 the date is left blank). There are virtually identical letters to Lord Strange, the Bishop of Chester, and the Justices of Lancashire and Cheshire, dated 20 June 1585 (printed in Peck, Desiderata Curiosa, 1: iv, 45), to the Council in the Marches of Wales, 20 June (H.M.C. Hereford MSS., 13th report, appendix, part 4, p. 332), and to the Justices of Surrey, 20 June (Kempe, Loseley Manuscripts, p. 492).

After our very hearty commendations. Upon intelligence given to her Majesty in October last past of certain seditious and traitorous books and libels covertly spread and scattered abroad in sundry parts of her realms and dominions, it pleased her Highness to publish proclamations throughout the realm for the suppressing of the same and due punishment of the authors, spreaders abroad, and detainers of them, in such sort and form as in the said proclamation is more at large contained. Sithence which time notwithstanding her Highness hath certainly known that the very same and divers other such like most slanderous, shameful, and devilish books and libels have been continually spread abroad and kept by disobedient persons, to the manifest contempt of her Majesty's regal and sovereign authority, and namely among the rest one most infamous, containing slanderous and hateful matter against our very good lord the Earl of Leicester, one of her principal noblemen and chief councillors of estate, of which most malicious and wicked imputations her Majesty in her own clear knowledge doth declare and testify his innocence to all the world, and to that effect hath written her gracious letters signed with her own hand to the Lord Mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen of London, where it was likely these books would chiefly be cast abroad. We therefore, to follow the course taken by her Majesty, and knowing manifestly the wickedness and falsehood of these slanderous devices against the said Earl, have thought good to notify her further pleasure and our own consciences to you in this case. First that as in truth her Majesty hath noted great negligence and remissness in the former execution of her commandment, for as much as the said seditious libels have been suffered since that time to be dispersed and spread abroad and kept by contemptuous persons without severe and due punishment inflicted for the same, so now upon the second charge and admonition given unto you, she verily looketh for the most strict and precise observation thereof in the sharpest manner that may be devised, testifying in her conscience before God unto you that her Highness not only knoweth in assured certainty the libels and books against the said Earl to be most malicious, false, and slanderous, and such as none but the devil himself could deem to be true, but also thinketh the same to have proceeded of the fullness of malice, subtly contrived to the note and discredit of her princely government over this realm, as though her Majesty should have failed in good judgment and discretion in the choice of so principal a councillor about her, or be without taste or care of all justice and conscience in suffering such heinous and monstrous crimes (as by the said libels and books be infamously imputed) to pass unpunished, or finally at the least to want either good will, ability, or courage (if she knew these enormities were true) to call any subject of hers whatsoever to render sharp accompt for them, according to the force and effect of laws. All which defects (God be thanked) we and all good subjects to our unspeakable comforts do know and have found to be far from the nature and virtue of her most excellent Majesty. And of the other side, both her Highness, of her certain knowledge, and we, to do his Lordship but right of our sincere consciences, must needs affirm these strange and abominable crimes to be raised of a wicked and venomous malice against the said Earl, of whose good service, sincerity of religion, and all other faithful dealings towards her Majesty and the realm we have had long and true experience. Which things considered, and withal knowing it an usual trade of traitorous minds, when they would render the princes' government odious, to detract and bring out of credit the principal persons about them, her Highness, taking the abuse to be offered to her own self, hath commanded us to notify the same unto you, to the end that knowing her good pleasure you may proceed therein as in a matter highly touching her own estate and honor. And therefore we wish and require you to have regard thereof accordingly, that the former negligence and remissness showed in the execution of her Majesty's commandment may be amended by the diligence and severity that shall be hereafter used. Which amendment and carefulness in this cause chiefly her Highness assuredly looketh for, and will call for accompt at your hands. And so bid you heartily farewell. From the Court at Greenwich the [20] of June 1585. Your very loving friends, T. Bromley, W. Burghley, Geo. Shrewsbury, H. Derby, F. Bedford, C. Howard, J. Hunsdon, F. Knollys, H. Sidney, Chr. Hatton, Fr. Walsingham, Wal. Mildmay.


a. Stafford to Walsingham, Paris, 24 August 1584, reporting the appearance there of Allen's Defence and perhaps the Commonwealth (extract; Murdin, State Papers, pp. 418-19).

The books to answer the True Execution of Justice in England, which I have long agone written to you were adoing, are now come out. I have sent you one of them; it is of Doctor Allen's or [Dr. William] Nicholson's doing, printed, as I hear, at Rheims, though they say in Germany, marvellous closely kept here from selling, not to be had for money, as this bearer can tell you. I was fain to recover them I have by some of their own faction, of whom I have divers things. He assureth me that at this hour there are two companies of them gone into England, two hundred in a company, to land some of them westward, some by the long seas. There is in my opinion no speaking to have them called in, for divers reasons, the one, because they are very secretly sold, the other, because they will take an advantage of it, and make men believe it is because we are touched to the quick.

b. Walsingham to Leicester, Barnelms, 29 September 1584, reporting confiscation of copies of the Commonwealth (in extenso; British Library, Cotton MSS., Titus B. VII, fols. 10-10v, printed by Leslie Hotson, "Who Wrote 'Leicester's Commonwealth,'" pp. 481-83).

My very good lord, yesterday I received from the Lord Mayor [Osborne] enclosed in a letter a printed libel against your Lordship, the most malicious written thing that ever was penned sithence the beginning of the world. The author thereof is Morgan, the Queen of Scots' agent in France, and as I gather by the course1 thereof he hath been assisted therein by the Lord Paget, Charles Arundell, and [William] Tresham. About a three years past I had notice given unto me in secret sort of such an intent, with a meaning also to reach higher, as appeareth by the Italian plot found about Creighton the Scot Jesuit, and therefore if her Majesty shall be drawn by some fautor2 of this wicked and devilish course to allow thereof the mischief like to ensue thereby will in the end reach to herself, when the time shall serve fit for the purpose. There is no good or honest man (and though he were your Lordship's mortal enemy) that doth not condemn this treacherous manner of dealing.

I mean with the leave of God to be at the Court by tomorrow at noon; I would be glad to know your Lordship's mind what course you could like I should hold with her Majesty, as also what order you think meet to be taken with the bringer over [Ralph Emerson] of the said books. It shall be very meet that both honest and wise men be appointed to examine him. For the mean time I have given straight charge to the Lord Mayor to see him kept for all conference by placing some honest trusty person to attend on him until he be thoroughly examined. I have also sent for the books that were found about him, which I will see strictly kept as they may not be dispersed. It behooveth us, considering the malice of this time, to walk very warily in our callings. And so I most humbly take my leave, at Barnelms, the 29th of September 1584.

c. Stafford to Walsingham, Paris, 29 October 1584, reporting attempts to trace the Commonwealth (in extenso; S.P. 78/12/105).

Sir, the Englishman that I desired Mr. Robert Cecil to tell you that arrived at the Spanish ambassador's out of England at the same instant that he [Cecil] departed, was the next day dispatched to Rouen back again and is looked for here again within eight days. He carrieth here a counterfeit name, I am sure; he calleth himself Stinter. At his return I will hearken more after him. Besides some other matters of importance that he brought with him (as I hear) he brought with him three or four of those books that are made again[st] a great councillor in England, as you know, for afore his coming I made as diligent a search as I could and could hear of none, and I know it for certainty that the Papists in the town themselves sought very narrowly for it, and [it] was not to be gotten, but since I know where two of them be, but very closely kept. There goeth a bruit among them that there were either three or four hundred of them taken in one port in England. I have done what I can to know where they were printed, but far as I can by any means find or hear, they themselves say in England or in Flanders, which I think to be true, for it hardly can be done either at Rouen or here but I should know of it, especially for this place I think I durst assure myself.

d. Robert Parsons to Alfonso Agazzari, Rouen, 13 December 1584 (extract). This letter records Parsons's version of the Commonwealth's arrival in England, based upon rumors he had heard concerning it; it seems certain that in fact he knew more at first hand about the book than he here reveals. The tale of Burghley's trick played upon Leicester is no doubt spurious, but may be seen in light of Walsingham' s fear (above) that there were some in the Court who might draw the Queen to "allow" of the book. The Latin original is in the Jesuit archives in Rome; the translation here is by Father Leo Hicks, as printed in "Growth of a Myth," pp. 98-99.

The Earl of Leicester is hostile to the Treasurer, who is reputed to have written that Justitia Britannica.3 When, then, he had received and read the reply to it, he presented a copy to the Queen, asserting that Cecil had acted rashly, since by his inept and inopportune pamphlet he had given occasion for this reply which would do great harm to their cause.

This action of Leicester Cecil took in very bad part, but soon had opportunity of paying him back in his own coin. For a few days later there appeared a book in English, written, so it seems, by a Protestant, in which in very sober style are revealed all the vices of the Puritans, but chiefly those of Leicester: his ambition, his tyranny, his crimes and treasons against the country and the Queen, his whole manner of life and utter knavery. Five or six hundred copies of the book fell into the hands of the officials whose business it is to search out such works, and in the absence of Leicester were sent to Cecil as the leading member of the Queen's Council. But far from suppressing the copies, Cecil immediately distributed them to many and handed one copy to the Queen herself. She was the last person in the world that Leicester wanted to see the book and he was nearly beside himself with vexation at it.

It is extraordinary, so it is reported, how eagerly the book is thumbed in England. Some offer twenty pounds for a copy and twenty crowns for a loan of one for three or four hours, so exceedingly detested by all is the Earl. Certainly, the book has remarkable things to say about him and his partisans. I only wish you were able to read it; you would be astounded. Copies were very hard to come by in these parts till our friends came from England. From them I obtained a copy and have wanted to send it to you, that you may present it to the Bishop of St. Asaph.

e. Stafford to Walsingham, Paris,30 March 1585, reporting the appearance of the Commonwealth's French translation, Discours de la vie abominable (in extenso; S.P. 78/13/86). The words in italics are from cipher.

Sir, I thought it convenient having this gentleman a convenient bearer to write to your honor of [a] thing which is here coming out and as I take it is printed at Rheims, though it be given out to be done at Cologne, which is the book again[st] the Earl of Leicester newly translated into French with a very villainous addition, as I hear, both in the former part and the hinter part of it. It is not yet come hither nor as yet looked for to be here these three or four days. I thought good by this bearer to send you word of it in time because as you think good you may give watch for the suppressing of them at their landing. For no doubt of it, they will be sent over, and [it] is determined among them to have all the means that can be and the device[?] to bring it to the sight of the Queen. I am in a peck of troubles what to do in it, for to complain of it were to have the matter more to be divulged abroad and to [be] more looked into and marked when it shall be seen to stir in, and especially by me because my nearest4 have a touch in it, which though between God and Leicester's conscience and almost in the opinion of most Englishmen her conscience be no farther touched than an honorable intent and a weak woman deceived, yet when it cometh to French heads' standings, who can neither speak nor think well of any, I doubt how they will interpret anything. And therefore if by any device I could devise to have it suppressed I would do it, but their malice to Leicester is such as all the world together shall not have credit to do it but by [official] complaint, which in my opinion is the worst way, and therefore for my part, though I be touched in it, others that touch me being touched in it, till I hear your farther opinion I do not mean at all to stir in it, but in making no accompt of it make all things in it to be thought a jest, as the Queen Mother [Catherine de Medici] hath done in all things touching her that have been set out, which hath made them die the sooner and little accompt made of them. There be in this town of our good people here that to curry favor with me have made it be told me that the matter touching my friends [sic] is so slightly urged and in that sort and not named as that I shall have no cause to be offended,5 but if it light in my lot and may come to know who is the doer of it, as I shall I doubt not, I will not leave to light upon [him] when he shall not be aware of it, perchance so that he shall feel of it. For I am not such a baby but that I know well enough that, though the names be either left out or the matter colored in the French, there be enough that have read the English and know the parties, that can take pains to gloss and interpret the text. I think the book is not put into French to be kept under a bushel, and though they were so geason6 I doubt not but to receive of the first that do come. And if you command me I will send you [one] of them, for else I will not, for I cannot tell how it will be taken, and I would be sorry to give cause to have anything evil taken. Two things have hindered me to write to Leicester of it, the one that I have no cipher, the other [that] I would be loth to do anything subject to bad interpretation, and therefore I leave it to you to do in it as you shall think best. I have kept it from the beginning that the other came out from translating here, for [Thomas] Throgmorton was even then in hand with it, and by means that I found left it off, and ever since it hath slept, and is but now of a sudden gushed out. I am very certainly advertised that the matter of the addition is come out of England, and from thence very earnestly pressed the translating and the setting out of it afresh. I pray God my friend be not laid up again when that it shall come to her ear, which yet is not, for I can assure you that the melancholy of the fear of the misinterpretation of the first, contrary to the desert of her conscience, was the cause of the last sickness that was so long and almost of life, as in truth I was a good while greatly afraid of. Thus beseeching you to send me your mind and what in this you will command me, and desiring you for my sake to be as good to this bearer as you may, I commit your honor to God.

f. Stafford to Lord Burghley, Paris, 30 March 1585 (in extenso; S.P.78/13/87).

My very good Lord, I have sent Mr. Secretary word that the book again[st] Leicester is come out again translated into French, with a very filthy addition, because there may order be given that they may be stayed at their coming over. They be not arrived to this town, but they are looked for every day. I am in a peck of troubles how to govern myself about the staying or complaining against the publishing of them. For first it is a particular man's case, and whether in that being a public person I may speak in it or no I know not, and besides whether making an open show to make accompt of it will do rather more harm or good to the conceit in men's judgments of it it is doubtful. For my part, though there be there touched in it [those] that I would be sorry in men's opinion there should be conceit had of, that of their conscience cannot accuse them of in the worst sort, yet for my part I rather think it better to let it alone as a thing that we make no accompt of, than by speaking of it or against it to make [them] think that a galled horse where he is touched will wince. And so I think is the way soon to make it little accompt to be made of and so die. It is marvellous suddenly come out, for I stayed it once here when I knew it was adoing and by whom, but now it is suddenly gushed out. They give out it is done at Cologne, but for my part I think it done either at Rheims or Eu. I shall [I] think ere long know of it. If your Lordship will command me, I will send you one as soon as any doth come, but else I will not, for Leicester is ever subject to take not well that which cometh from me, though I give no cause, and therefore I fear also the like in this, though for my friend I have as much interest against this as he. Thus I [etc.].

g. Stafford to Burghley, Paris, 10 April 1585 (in extenso; S.P. 78/13/99).

My very good Lord, by the copies of these two letters to Mr. Secretary your Lordship shall see all I can write. William Waad need carry with him one of the books against Leicester, which maketh me bold to send you one, which I have packeted up in a box as some other token.7 I pray your Lordship let it be kept to yourself, for though I mean no harm I know not how things coming from me that way will be taken.

h. Stafford to Walsingham, Paris, 20 January 1586, defending himself and his secretary, Lilly (in extenso; S.P. 78/15/15).

Sir, Mr. Stallings at his arrival this morning both gave me a letter of your honor writ to me of your own hand; by them I perceived that you took otherwise my meaning in my last about Lilly and Michael8 than I meant it. For truly, Sir, though I writ that I must be fain to seek some other course to make known unto her Majesty (if you would not favor me to do it) that she had no cause to be offended with me for keeping of Lilly after her commandment to me to put him away, because indeed you in her name did command me the contrary, which was to keep him and to make no show to him of anything, yet your honor doth know that as long as it since I never writ to anybody of it but to yourself, and desired you that I might be beholding to nobody but to you for it; if for this you had cause to be offended with me, I leave it to you to judge. If withal I did write unto you that which I do hear and see every day here what is said and conceived among ambassadors and others of no small quality to my disgrace, you might think whether I had cause to grieve, and in truth you must pardon me, Sir, if I must needs write this to you, that it had been a greater show of some respect the more to the place I am employed in if there had been men known for faults fit not to be kept it could have pleased you to have written to me privately the cause why it was not fit I should keep them, that I myself thereupon might have put them away, than to have kept [them] away from me as though I had had neither honesty, reason, nor discretion to have done it myself upon any just cause.

Therefore I most humbly beseech your honor to think nothing in me if I mean somewhat earnest in this, for all the wealth I have is my desire to live in good opinion and reputation, and anything that toucheth that truly I must confess doth gall me; if in that case I deal plainly with those that be my honorable good friends, I pray you think better of a man that dealeth plainly than of him that keepeth in his stomach everything dissemblingly. The one's friendship is not worth a point when it cometh to the touchstone, the other a man may be assured of at all assays. I pray you, Sir, take me in the number of the last, and hold yourself as assured that where I profess friendship I will [continue?] with it without regard of anything in the earth but the duty to my prince, and pray you think that there is nobody I desire to be more in that predicament with than with you, and ever have done, and ever will do, and whensoever you will make what trial you think good of anything I can, you shall try whether the increase of your fortune, which I pray for, or the decrease of it, which I do not fear, shall make me alter any point of my affection when I promise it.

For my two men, if I might receive that favor at your hands that I might have them sent over to me and withal that you advise me with reason to put them away, let myself have that credit to do, you shall favor me greatly. For the one, truly I will tell you I never meant to serve myself of him after his return to me for a particularity to myself, which I grew in a great misliking with him for, and in truth did not mean if he come to keep him long, and to look well enough to his water while he remaineth here. For Lilly I must tell your honor truly I have no cause that I do know to be offended with him, and truly I have sought into as much as a man could do, and he is not so wise as not to be found halting. For those things which you send me word of by Stallings, which I knew afore that he was examined upon, except that matter of my Lord of Arundel's, I could answer myself. For that of my Lord of Leicester, your honor did mistake me that I took him for a private person but in one kind, which was that I being a public person here for her Majesty could do no more than I did if it had been for my father, for to complain against anybody that had written against anybody but against the Queen I could not. And to go about to suppress it I could do no more, for as I could get books into my hand I burnt them all, to the number of thirty-two or three, till so great numbers of them came as I saw it was to no purpose. And for Lilly, if he perchance saw or read a book surely that were in reason no such criminal cause, but sure I had rather cause to think that my Lord of Leicester should be so incensed against him for the love the poor fellow bare to me than for any cause else.

Well, Sir, to avoid all causes, and that you shall see I will follow your counsel and advice in anything, I will if you think good send of purpose to my Lord of Leicester and write in the best manner I can to see if by craving it of him I can obtain his good will, which yet I know no cause of why I should leese it. And the letters and the bearer shall come by you first that you may see them, and if you will be so good to me as to send Lilly, I will send him over to him himself, that he may carry them to my Lord from me, and that my Lord may use him as he shall see cause or pardon him if he find none, and send him to me again with his pleasure. Surely, Sir, the man might stand me in some stead, and if you will favor me so much as to send him presently I shall take it a thing that I shall be beholding to you for. For Grimston hath very great business in England for a three weeks' going and coming, and I would fain have him to serve me here in his absence, and as soon as ever Grimston is returned I will presently send him back, first to you and so to my Lord of Leicester, or if you think not good for other causes, which I beseech you to look well into afore you condemn the poor man, he hath had a mind to travel a great while; I will give him wherewithal to travel for a year or such a thing into Italy, and after to place him the best I can. Mr. Stallings told me of some unkindness between my mother and you, which I am very sorry for; I will [ . . . ] both write and send my mind plainly to her. For the one cause which you conceived for my man's usage, truly upon my honesty I writ nor never sent any word to her nor to anybody else of it, and if she hath conceived anything of that it is of opinion that everybody else hath done that heard it. For that of my Lord of Arundel I will by him write my mind plainly and send to her by Stallings, and so would I do to my Lord of Arundel himself if I could tell how it would be taken. For surely, Sir, you should do me great wrong if you do not think that I myself desire to be as much beholding to you, and to have all my friends of the same mind, as any man in England, and I pray you, Sir, think so and let me by this poor suit I make to you for my men have cause to think so, and withal I pray you assure yourself that no poor gentleman in England loveth and honoreth his friends more everlastingly than I do.


There are several extant poems concerning Leicester, most derived from Leicester's Commonwealth, but two will suffice by way of example. The "Epitaphium" survives in several similar versions,9 but what seems to be the most authoritative form follows.


Here lies the valiant soldier
that never drew his sword.
Here lies the loyal courtier
that never kept his word.
Here lies the noble lecher
that used art to provoke.
Here lies the constant husband
whose love was firm as smoke.
Here lies the politician
and nut worm of the state,
Here lies the Earl of Leicester
that God and man did hate.l0

The second example also illustrates some of the odd things that associated themselves with the Leicester legend. The puzzling, pious little effusion headed "Notable talk herein taught" is inscribed before a manuscript copy of Leicester's Commonwealth that is otherwise unremarkable (Folger Shakespeare Library, MS. G.b.11).

Notable talk herein taught,
In these words are many caught.

Read you but not to speak again;
Speak but not what thou readest here.
News for to learn all men are fain,
But wisely few that news can bear.

The Ragged Staff that stay was to the state
(As some men thought) is bent another way
(As here is taught), so fickle is the stay
Of those that use to bear the greatest sway.

Let all take head how they aspire too high,
For when they fall, of all, they lowest lie.

The stately Bear that at the stake would stand
'Gainst all the mastiffs stout that would come forth
Is muzzled here and ringed with our hand,
Yea, vile reputed and of little worth.

Great Robin, whom before all could not take,
Is here by shepherd's curs made for to quake.

Thus may we learn, there is no staff so strong
But may be broken into shivers small,
No beast so fierce the cruel beasts among
But age or cunning gins may work his fall.

Let no man trust in earth to find a place
Which can preserve him from a foul disgrace.

Truths or untruths, whats'ere they be
Which here you read, yet not in vain.
Read over these and you shall see
That this doth prove the greatest gain,

To be content and not desire,
For all do fall that do aspire.


1. Hotson reads "worst."

2. "Fautor": partisan, supporter (O.E.D.). Walsingham appears to fear that someone at Court will persuade the Queen not to act to suppress the libel.

3. Burghley's Execution of Justice in England; the reply is Dr. Allen's Defence of English Catholics.

4. That is, his wife, Douglass Howard, Lady Sheffield.

5. Stafford's informants were correct: In the French translation Lady Sheffield's name, as well as everything else that might serve to identify her, has been carefully omitted from every place it occurs in the English original.

6. "Geason": rare, scarce (O.E.D.).

7. The calendarist misleadingly has "with some other tokens" (C.S.P. Foreign, 1584-85, p. 412).

8. Michael Moody was in Stafford's service, but was suspected by him of having been planted by Walsingham. Early in 1587, when Elizabeth would not proceed with the sentence of death already passed against the Queen of Scots, Walsingham came up with the "Stafford Plot," in which Des Trappes, secretary to the French ambassador Châteauneuf, and William Stafford (1554-1612), Sir Edward's brother, were to have employed Moody (then in Newgate prison for debt) to blow up Queen Elizabeth with gunpowder under her bed.

9. Other versions: Huntington Library MS. EL 6183 (signed "Wa. Ra."); Verstegan, Declaration of the True Causes of the Great Troubles, p. 54; Latham, Poems of Sir Walter Ralegh, p. 172. Raleigh's authorship is not now accepted.

10. British Library, Stowe MS. 156, fol. 204v. For discussion, see Peck, "Another Version of the Leicester Epitaphium."

Appendices with Related Notes
Appendix APrinted and Manuscript Forms of Leicester's Commonwealth
Appendix BThe French Translation, 1585, and its Addition
Appendix CSidney's Defense of Leicester
Appendix DFurther Notes
Appendix ERelated Documents
Appendix FGenealogical Tables
BibliographyBibliography of Printed Works Cited
PDF version, 2006 (2.0 MB)

bookpen.gif (2870 bytes)Please do not reproduce this text in any form for commercial purposes; all other uses are okay, with acknowledgement. This text has been scanned from the printed copy, published by Ohio University Press, 1985 -- this is an imperfect process and if you should want to quote something and have any doubts about you see here, please feel free to ask. Feedback and suggestions are welcome, . Posted 2 September 2004.


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