A secretarial letter to the French king from a determined and angry Elizabeth I, headed by her bold signature and also bearing a contemporary note in the hand of her principal adviser, Lord Burghley. It sold for £45,000 at Sotheby’s.

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Two important documents in a History in Manuscript sale held by Sotheby’s (26/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) on April 13 bore the signature of Elizabeth I.

One of them, sold at £45,000, demonstrates her command of the complexities of foreign policy and her determination that her foreign enemies should never become “owner of one foote of grounde in Englande”.

Part of a sale held to disperse what was billed as a single-owner ‘Distinguished Collection’, this letter of diplomatic instruction, dated March 16, 1592, was sent to Thomas Wilkes, Clerk of the Privy Council and her new envoy to Henri IV (Henri of Navarre).

The letter expresses Elizabeth’s frustration at the French king’s policies and military strategy. She threatens to withdraw the military aid she has afforded the king to assist him in Brittany and Normandy, unless he “alter his former courses”.

Just to the right of Elizabeth’s signature appears a brief note in the hand of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who served as her Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer, and was her principal adviser for much of her reign.

Showing some damage and minor loss, but professionally repaired, the letter was last seen in Sotheby’s rooms in December 1980, when it sold for £8000.

Set sail

Dating from March 1596, the second letter was a royal order or warrant.

Less than three months after its issue, in a dramatic move Lord Howard of Effingham and the Earl of Essex sailed with a fleet of 150 vessels to an engagement that brought the sack of Cadiz and defeat for the Spanish fleet.

Although it was a humiliation for Philip II, the raid delivered no real strategic advantage beyond sapping further the overstretched Spanish treasury. However, time was also found to raid Faro in Portugal on the return home, where 178 books were taken from the bishop’s library and then donated to the Bodleian!

Sold for £6200 in 1979, this document made £32,000 on its return to auction.

Spy to spy

The third lot noted here was something very different: a specially published English language edition of a Russian work called Lenin on Britain that bears the annotations of the spy, Guy Burgess, who had defected to Russia and exile in Moscow.

At his death in 1963 the book was bequeathed to fellow spy Kim Philby, and in 1994 made its first appearance at Sotheby’s, selling for £150. This time the price was £2600.