Exploring Bess of Hardwick’s letters

As mentioned in a previous post, several online finding aids for manuscript collections at the Folger now include links to digital images of the documents, providing another avenue of access to both onsite and offsite researchers. Finding aids provide detailed descriptions about the creation, historical context, arrangement, and content of collections, helping researchers find items in a collection that are relevant to their interests. My post today will take a closer look at navigating and using our online finding aids and related resources. 

The Folger’s online finding aids are accessible from collection-level records in Hamnet and through the Folger Finding Aid Database (click the “finding aids” tab on Hamnet’s landing page or use the easy-to-remember link findingaids.folger.edu). The Database provides a browsable list of finding aids as well a search tool for the entire collection of aids.

Folger Finding Aid Database

Folger Finding Aid Database

Today, for all you Collation readers, I’m going to use the finding aid for the Papers of the Cavendish-Talbot family to illustrate these great resources. If you were interested in Bess of Hardwick, you could have come across the finding aid through a search in Hamnet for Bess or one of her family members that led to the catalog record for papers, by browsing the list of finding aids at the Database, or through the Database’s search tool.

After reading the useful preliminary material about the collection (including detailed information about its scope and content and a very useful list of related materials at the Folger and elsewhere), scroll down to the contents list (you can also jump straight there by using the navigation links on the left):

list of contents of the Cavendish-Talbot family papers

list of contents of the Cavendish-Talbot family papers

Clicking on the link to a digital image—for instance, for the first item, X.d.428 (1)—will take you to the item in our Digital Image Collection, showing thumbnails of the recto and verso of the bifolium letter:

thumbnails of digital images of X.d.428 (1)

thumbnails of digital images of X.d.428 (1)

Click on the thumbnail you want (note the cataloging information along the left of the screen). From here, you can enlarge the image, export it, print it, share it, and add it to a Media Group in order to create a slide show or Powerpoint presentation. Just remember that you must register first in order to create a Media Group in our Digital Image Collection (clicking on “help” will provide details on how to do this). Especially valuable is the ability to enlarge the manuscript by using the zoom bar, making the document easier to read.

zoomed-in view of Cavendish's letter

zoomed-in view of Arundel’s letter

All of the documents in the Papers of the Cavendish-Talbot family are available through our Digital Image Collection and can be accessed via the above method or by searching directly in the image database.

For those of you who may find Bess of Hardwick (also known as Lady Cavendish, Lady St. Loe, and the Countess of Shrewsbury) to be of particular interest, her correspondence ca. 1550-1608 (including 102 letters from the Folger’s collection) is available online at The University of Glasgow’s Bess of Hardwick’s Letters (www.bessofhardwick.org). Images of many original documents are available there, as well as transcripts for all 234 letters included on the website. This resource is a useful complement to the Papers of the Cavendish-Talbot family. For example, below is a letter from our collection written by John Manners, in which he replies to request from Bess to assist Edward Dyer in his duties as executor of an estate:

John Manners' letter to Bess of Hardwick

John Manners’s letter to Bess of Hardwick

A quick browse under recipient on Bess of Hardwick’s Letters turns up Bess’s letter to Manners, dated just one day prior to his response (original in Belvoir Castle) and asking Manners to let Dyer “have all the furtheraunce and frendship you can doe him in his busines and as by his letter he desireth.”

Although the trail of correspondence can’t always be followed, use of Bess’s additional correspondence along with the documents found in the Folger’s collections provide details on her extraordinary life, from her relationships with her husbands and children, to correspondence with Queen Elizabeth I, to the minutiae of her everyday life. And, while nothing compares to the excitement of working with original materials, the ease with which researchers can access these rich resources is undeniably valuable.

Author: Melanie Dyer

MELANIE DYER is the Research and Outreach Librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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