Apr 26 • 4M

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With a reading by Olivia Colman

Shaun Usher
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History's most interesting letters.
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The following letter, which I adore, can be found in the shiny new edition of the original Letters of Note book. Also… the reading by Olivia Colman is from the accompanying audiobook. Also… enjoy.


Last lines of the letter from Lady Elizabeth Compton to her husband, Harley MS 7003, f.158r (pen & ink on paper), (17th century) © British Library Board. All Rights Reserved

On March 3rd, 1610, the one time Lord Mayor of London Sir John Spencer died, leaving behind a vast fortune to be inherited not by his daughter, Elizabeth, whom he had often treated terribly, but to her husband, Lord William Compton—an amount so large, in fact, that Compton was said to have “lost his way” for some time. It was in 1618, when Compton’s health was restored, that Elizabeth wrote him the following letter and listed the many, many ways in which she was to spend some of her late father’s money.


My Sweet Life,

Now I have declared to you my mind for the settling of your state, I supposed that it were best for me to bethink or consider with myself what allowance were meetest for me. For, considering what care I have had of your estate, and how respectfully I dealt with those, which both by the laws of God and nature, and of civil polity, wit, religion, government, you, my dear, are bound to, I pray, and beseech you to grant me, your most kind and loving wife, the sum of £26,000 per annum, quarterly to be paid.

Also, I would have £600 added yearly for the performance of charitable works, and those things I would not, neither will be, accountable for.

Also, I will have three horses for my own saddle, that none shall dare to lend or borrow: none lend but I, none borrow but you.

Also, I would have two gentlewomen, lest one should be sick, or have some other let.

Also believe that it is an indecent thing for a gentlewoman to stand mumping alone, when God hath blessed their Lord and Lady with a good estate.

Also, when I ride a hunting, or hawking, or travel from one house to another, I will have them attending me; so for either of these said women, I must and will have for either of them a horse.

Also, I will have six or eight gentlemen: and I will have my two coaches; one lined with velvet to myself, with four very fair horses; and a coach for my women, lined with sweet cloth, and laced with gold: the other with scarlet and laced with silver, with four good horses.

Also, I will have two coachmen; one for my own coach, the other for my women

Also, at any time when I travel, I will be allowed not only carriages and spare horses for me and my women, but I will have such carriages as shall be fitting for all, orderly, not pestering my things with my women's, nor theirs with chambermaids, nor theirs with wash maids

Also, for laundresses when I travel, I will have them sent away before with the carriages, to see all safe; and the chamber-maids I will have go before, that the chambers may be ready, sweet and clean.

Also, that it is indecent to crowd up myself with my gentleman-usher in my coach, I will have him to have a convenient horse to attend me, either in town or country. And I must have two footmen; and my desire is, that you defray all the charges for me.

Also, for myself, besides my yearly allowance, I would have twenty gowns of apparel: six of them excellent good ones, eight of them for the country, and six other of them very excellent good ones.

Also, I would have you to put in my purse £2000, and so for you to pay my debts.

Also, I would have £6000 to buy me jewels, and £4000 to buy me a pearl-chain.

Also, seeing as I have been, and am, so reasonable unto you, I pray you do find my children apparel, and their schooling; and also my servants, men and women, their wages.

Also, I will have all my houses furnished; and my lodging chambers to be suited with all such furniture as shall be fit; as beds, stools, chairs, suitable cushions, carpets, silver warming-pans, cupboards of plate, fair hangings, and such like: so for my drawing chambers in all houses, I will have them delicately furnished, both with hangings, couch, canopy, glass, carpets, chairs, cushions, and all things thereunto belonging.

Also, my desire is, that you would pay all my debts, build up Ashby House, and purchase lands; and lend no money to the Lord Chamberlain, who would have perhaps your life from you. Remember his son my Lord Walden, what entertainment he gave me, when you were at jousting. If you were dead, he said, he would be a husband, a father, a brother, and he said he would marry me. I protest I grieve to see the poor man have so little wit and honesty to use his friend so vilely.

So now that I have declared to you what I would have, and what it is I would not have; I pray that when you be an Earl, to allow me £2000 more than I now desire, and double attendance.

Your loving Wife,
Eliza Compton


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