Thursday, November 14, 2019

Young Henry Neville, Walsingham, and Marco Antononio Pigafetta

It has been suggested for awhile that Henry Neville might have traveled in 1583 with Francis Walsingham to the court of King James VI in Scotland. I have uncovered some new evidence that supports this.

1582 Letter from Cobham to Walsingham Specifically Mentions Neville

In the National Archives there is a very interesting letter from Henry Cobham, ambassador to France, to Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's principal secretary:
If Signor Pigafetti, of whom I have written in my former letters ‘to be’ the acquaintance of young Mr Nevell, is at present on his departure towards England...  I beseech you that Pigafetta may receive the favour to transport at his return a gelding, having often been visited by him. He has written a book of his long ‘voyage’ passed in Turkey and Judea, which he desires her Majesty may see.—Paris, 17 Sept. 1582. (British History Online)
Here is a photo of the actual letter, I have marked the mention of "Pigafetti" and "young Mr. Nevell":

The "young Mr Nevell" here is almost certainly a reference to Henry Neville who was travelling in Italy at the time with his tutor and lifelong friend Henry Savile. "Signor Pigafetti" is a reference to Marco Antonio Pigafetta:
Hakluyt turned again to the Italian reformers, promoting the publication of the Itinerario da Vienna a Constantinopli by the Italian traveller Marco Antonio Pigafetta. Raised in the same family of the far more famous Antonio, Marco Antonio Pigafetta began to question his Catholic faith in Vicenza, one of the Italian centers of diffusion of Protestant doctrines. (The Routledge Research Companion to Anglo-Italian Renaissance Literature)
Pigafetta was related to Antonio Pigafetta whose book on Magellan's circumnavigation of the world, directly or indirectly, was a source for The Tempest ("Setebos" apparently comes from there ultimately).

1583 Walsingham's Embassy to Scotland

In August 1583 Walsingham traveled to Scotland to meet with King James VI; here is an excellent overview of the trip. Richard Edes was travelling there at the same time and comments on them in his poem Iter Boreale, which circulated in manuscript, and was translated by Dana Sutton in The Philological Museum:
Our number was great, but still was greater that of those who composed the Lord Ambassador’s retinue. Foremost among them was the Earl of Essex,  then the two Wardens of the border country, Lord Scrope  and fierce Foster (whom they say to be good at guarding himself).  There too were two brothers, both distinguished by the golden Garter, the true scions of Russell,  that Earl to whom Bedford lends its name. Joined to them were others resplendent in purple and gold, Mildmay, Neville,  distinguished for his book-learning [doctusque libros tractare Nevillus], that right noble lad of the North, Lowther,  Widdrington,  Barnston, the Musgraves, skilled at horse-riding, Fenwick
Sutton suggests that this "Neville" might refer to Henry Neville. The timing fits perfectly. By August 1583, Neville was back from his journey to Europe, and this was before he married Anne Killigrew in 1584 and moved to Mayfield in Sussex. So he would have had free time to travel to Scotland. The letter above shows clearly that Walsingham was familiar with "young Mr. Nevell," so it makes sense that he might have been included on the mission. The involvement of the Earl of Essex also would presage Neville's later imprisonment for his involvement in the Essex Rebellion.

Edes got his BA from Oxford in 1574 and MA in 1578, so he almost certainly knew Henry Savile and would have known of Savile's trip to Europe. The reference to "distinguished for his book-learning" would have been a reference to the hunting for Greek and Latin manuscripts Savile was engaged in during the trip -- and which Henry Neville, as his travelling companion, must have been involved with.

We also have a letter from Henry Neville's father to Walsingham in 1585, so the father might have helped arranged the journey through his connection to Walsingham. The father was involved in a lot of activities Walsingham would have been engaged with, including managing the imprisonment of the Duke of Norfolk in 1569. So Walsingham might have included "young Mr. Nevell" as a favor to his father.


More work needs to be done tracing the details of this trip to Scotland, but it seems reasonable to think that Henry Neville might have been part of this group in 1583.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Inscription on Shakespeare's Sonnets at the University of Manchester

The John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester has a copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets with an inscription written on the back page. You can see a high resolution version at the Folger Library.

John Casson and others have suggested that this inscription might have been made by Henry Neville of Billingbear (d. 1615). Here I will explore this possibility by comparing the inscription with samples from Henry Neville's letters. I think this makes a very convincing case that he did, and I hope that this analysis will spur further research into this question.

Here is a close-up view of the inscription. It reads: "Comendacions to my very kind and approued ffrind B: M:":

Compare the first line with these examples. I will go into depth on each word:

And the second line:

A Study in Variation

Before we get into the details, I'd like to show a few examples to demonstrate the care required in handwriting attribution like this. Henry Neville varied his handwriting a great deal depending on the circumstances and even within a single letter. So to understand what is likely going on here, we need to study that variation.

Please examine carefully these examples; Examples A and B are from the inscription, the rest are from Henry Neville's letters (C and D are from a single letter from Henry Neville from 1600 to Henry Cuffe; E is from a draft letter from Henry Neville; F and G are from a single letter from Henry Neville Robert Cecil in 1600):

Look at Examples C and D of the word "very". Even though they are from a single letter, there are substantial differences. The length of the line coming down from the word-initial "v" is different as well as the "r". Compared with Example A from the Sonnets inscription, you can see how Example D matches the initial "v" much better than Example C. Neither of them is a match for the "y" in Example A, but Examples F and G do seem to match the "y" quite well.

Example E matches Example A extremely closely in terms of the "e" and "r", but the "v" and the "y" don't really match well. 

Look at "my", Example B, from the inscription. It matches examples F and G  quite well in terms of the "m", but the "y" is actually a closer match with Example C.

Studying Variation in a Single Letter

There is a draft letter at The National Archives which Henry Neville wrote in his "formal secretary hand". I reproduce it here. I have circled three examples of the word "very" written on the document (note the January 1599 date is "new style"; Henry Neville wrote this from London before he left for France). Note, there is a ten year gap between this letter and the Sonnets inscription, so even if the same person wrote both, we should expect some variability based on the passage of time alone:

Here you can see them in detail:

There are several important things to note here. First note how the letter "e" varies; Examples H and I have the more formal "e" that Henry Neville used in some correspondence, while Example J has the "e" that he usually used. This is the form of "e" found on the Sonnets inscription.

Look at how the "y" is formed. Examples H and I have a "y" formed in a more careful style. J has a more cursive-style "y" written with just one pen stroke. This is the *exact same* variation we saw in the example from the inscription above. 

This illustration should help make it clear:

Examples B and A above are from the inscription. Examples J and H are from that 1599 letter. See how the "y" in Example J is like the one in example B, while the "y" in Example Example H is like the one in Example A. The writer of the Sonnets inscription varies their "y" just like Henry Neville does. This is strong evidence for the possibility that Henry Neville wrote this inscription.

Take a step back now and look at these two in comparison. There are striking similarities:

Look out how the line from the "y" in "my" extends up in both Examples I and K. Look out how the line from "y" in "very" extends out to the following word in both Example I and K. 

Please note, comparing Example I and K, the "very" and "my" are not close matches. But I have already shown above strong matches between Henry Neville's "my" and "very" and the Sonnets inscription. Henry Neville varied how he wrote words, depending on the style of the letter and other factors. The key is to match his variation with the variation on the inscription. It appears to be a match, and that really is the strongest possible type of evidence.

See this blog post I wrote about Neville's 1590 letter to Lord Burghley for more detailed analysis of this type of variation.


Here is a close-up view of the first word:

Henry Neville in his confession of 1601 after the Essex Rebellion wrote "very kind commendacions" (I underlined the "c" letters, and the letter at the end that looks like a "6" is an "s"):

If you compare "commendacions" with the inscription, it really is a remarkably close match:

Here is an example of the same word from a 1599 letter to Thomas Windebank. Unfortunately the image is a bit hard to see, but it seems very similar to the 1601 sample from Neville's confession: 

There is another example of Henry Neville writing the word as a "pen trial" or scribble on the back of a letter. I discovered this at the Berkshire Record Office. It's hard to read but it is an important sample to examine:

Using provides perhaps a little more clarity; the "d" seems to match the inscription quite closely, and the "c" (looks like a circle divided into four) is the same type as the inscription, though different style:

We have a fourth example from a letter Henry Neville sent to his good friend Henry Savile in September 1608, closer to the publication of the Sonnets; this is his less formal style of handwriting:

The abbreviation mark 

Look at the mark above the first word:

This is an abbreviation mark. To quote the Society of Genealogists: "In Secretary Hand, an abbreviation mark, a dash or a symbol, would appear above these letters while omitting the ‘i.’" That is why there is no "i". As far as having only one "m", it could be Henry Neville used the mark to omit the second "m" as well, or this could be just a variation in spelling. We have examples of him writing both "honor" and "honnor" in his letters, for instance.

Though Henry Neville did not usually use such abbreviations in his letters, he did in his letter from 1590 to Lord Burghley (see this blog post)

Here are some samples from that letter. Though less elaborate, they are similar in shape to the mark on the inscription and all begin with dark point on the right, just like the inscription:

Neville almost always put a line with two loops under his signature; here is an examples from 1608, it shows his ornamental writing:

I have also found this example in a scribble after "and":

So the abbreviation mark in the inscription is certainly consistent with what we know about Henry Neville's handwriting style and general penmanship.

"very kind"

If we compare "very kind" from the 1601 confession with the inscription, it certainly seems like it could be written by the same person:


I have collected many examples of "very" from Henry Neville's letters to compare to the inscription. Compare the inscription on the left with the samples on the right. Some are closer in terms of the "v" or the "e" or the "r" or the "y", but taken all together, it is an incredibly close match:


"kind" is a similar situation. To my eye, this example from a 1600 letter to Robert Cecil is a very close match:

This example of "king" from a very formal 1600 letter is also a very close match for the "kin":

This example from a 1606 letter to Dudley Carleton is an extremely good match for the "k":

For the word-final "d" in "kind" in the inscription, compare these from the 1600 letter to Cecil, they are quite in-line with the inscription:


Compare the "and" from the inscription with the above samples from the 1600 letter:

"my" also seems to match quite well with the samples from Neville's letters:

Bottom Line of the Inscription

The bottom line reads "approued ffrind B: M:"

Though I can't find an example of "approued" that matches this word, I have examples that match the "a" and the double-"p". Henry Neville often had a line coming up from the bottom of his "p" but not always:

I haven't yet found an example of "friend" spelled "ffrind". Neville often spelled the word "freend" and usually didn't write it with a double-"f" -- though that style of "ff" appears often in Neville's handwriting. The world-final "d" is similar to how he writes it in his formal letters (see "and" and "kind" above):

Who was B: M:?

What is most intriguing are the "B: M:". First of all, no one has any idea who "B: M:" refers to. Knowing that, of course, might help resolve the mystery of the inscription.

The "B" looks like a "23", but this was a common way of writing the letter. Henry Neville wrote capital "B" many different ways, but you can see from this 1590 letter that he wrote it in a way that looked like a "23" too. This isn't an exact match, but it is reasonably consistent:

What is really interesting is that the backside of the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf has "But" written twice, and it's quite a good match for Henry Neville:

As far as the "M:" goes, I don't have a good match from Henry Neville's handwriting, but the letter formation is very odd. I'm not even sure it was intended to be an "M".

Examining the September 1608 Letter to Julius Caesar

The above comparisons have been with Henry Neville's letters taken over a 15+ year period. I've tried to find the best matches, taking words from different letters.

Here, I would like instead to take just one letter, written to Julius Caesar, Chancellor and Under Treasurer of the Exchequer, on September 24, 1608. The date is close to the publication of the Sonnets in 1609, so it should be a good comparison. Here is the letter, I took this photo at the Berkshire Record Office:

This letter is written in Henry Neville's "formal secretary"  handwriting; the inscription is perhaps in a bit more formal style. So there are strong consistencies but some differences. The matches here are less precise, but the overall impression is very strong. Here I compare the top line of the inscription with the letter:

Examining the 1600 letter to Robert Cecil

This letter from 1600 is written in Henry Neville's "super formal" style. He sometimes used this style in situations like these, where he was writing a letter of reference for someone. It is reproduced here with permission of the Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield House.

Here are the comparisons. Note that this formal style has a different "e" and "h" than shown in the 1608 letter and shown on the transcription. Henry Neville varied these letters depending on the formality of the correspondence. So there are some obvious differences here in letter formation, but those are just variations in Henry Neville's handwriting:

Solving the Missing Pieces?

There are two major open questions needed to link the inscription to Henry Neville. It's important to remember that most of the letters we have from Henry Neville were written from 1598-1602. This inscription was probably made in 1609, and we have far fewer examples of Neville's handwriting from that period.

On November 12, 1606 Henry Neville received a letter from Laurence Chaderton, the tutor of Jonathan Trelawny, Henry Neville's nephew by marriage. On the back of the letter, Neville wrote:

Here are some similar notes from the same period:

This still isn't a perfect match, but the "M" from "Mr" isn't too far off the inscription:

The capital "C" also has a shape somewhat similar to the large "C" on the inscription; far from a perfect match, but the closest I have found so far, and at least suggestive of the larger version. The formation of the two seems to be the same, however:


I believe this raises the substantial likelihood that Henry Neville did, indeed, write the inscription on the Copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets at the Rylands library. More research, of course, needs to be done to conclusively confirm this. I look forward to feedback from experienced paleographers. You can email me kenfeinstein (at sign) gmail com.

Please check out my handwriting analysis of the Northumberland Manuscript.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Part 3: Documenting Henry Neville's Handwriting and the Northumberland Manuscript

In Part 1 and Part 2 I compared the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf with Henry Neville's handwriting. I claim that Henry Neville could write in several different styles, including a formal and much more formal secretary hand.

There is a letter from 1590 which, I believe, demonstrates this clearly. I want to go into detail on this letter, explaining all of the circumstances surrounding it. This level of detail is necessary to establish the baseline for Henry Neville's handwriting. First we must establish clearly what Henry Neville wrote with his own hand, and then we can start comparing those samples to the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf.

The Details of the 1590 Letter at the British Library

Here is the catalog entry from the British Library, you can access the entry via this permalink:

Title: Sir Henry Nevell's complaint to Lord Burghley, that he is rigidly used by Lord Warwick for casting iron ordnance, 1590.
Collection Area: Western Manuscripts
Reference: Lansdowne MS 65/22
Creation Date: 1590

This letter is available on State Papers Online, it is Document Number: MC4305085404. Here is a complete transcription of the letter done by John O'Donnell.

The British Library entry says "Sir Henry Nevell" because that is how the letter is signed. (Note, at that time, Neville's father was a "Sir" but he wasn't.) Here is the signature:

Note how he signs it "Neuell". This is the earliest letter we currently have from Henry Neville. His later signatures are identical in style but he write "Neuill" with an "i". His father spelled his name with an "e", but he consistently -- from at least 1594 on -- always spelled it with an "i".

The Folger Library has a letter from Henry Neville's father to Nathaniel Bacon. Neville's stepmother was Elizabeth Bacon, so this is a letter from Henry Neville's father to his brother-in-law at the time. Elizabeth and Nathaniel were older half-siblings to Francis Bacon. You can read the whole letter from Henry Neville's father at the Folger website. The signature is completely different:

So it is very clear this 1590 letter is from the son, not the father, even though it is signed "Nevell." In addition, the contents of the letter relate to Henry Neville, the son's, business casting iron ordnance. In 1590 he was running an ironworks in Sussex at Mayfield, which his family inherited from Thomas Gresham, his mother's uncle.

Style Variation Throughout the Letter

There are 31 lines total in the letter, but you can see how the writing gets spottily less formal as the letter progresses. The scribe also seems to be realizing that they are running out of space. The last 7 lines take up as much space as the first five:

However, it does not appear that there are two different people writing this letter. It appears to be the work of one individual who has a style that can vary. Here are examples of "that" and "That" taken from the letter. Note especially how line 1 and line 16 vary. The capital "T" is different and the "h" is different. But line 8 and line 26 and 28 are quite close matches.

As far as I can tell, Henry Neville had two ways of writing an "h". Example 1 above is his formal "h" and example 16 shows his informal "h".

Compare to this letter of 1594 where the capital "T" varies in the exact same word and the exact same way  as the capital "T" in examples 1 and 16 above:

Later, I will have more on this variation in the "T" and how it relates to Henry Neville's scribbles and the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf. There is a great deal of consistency in variation across the documents.

Comparing "the"

Here are some examples of "the" that make this very clear. For almost the whole letter he  maintains a fancy "the" until line 26 and 28 where a less fancy version slips in with a different "h" and a different "e". At first one might think that a different scribe had started writing the letter at this point. But if you look at lines 26 and 28 you can see the writer maintains the fancy "that" in lines 26 and 28. It does not appear that there are two individuals here; rather there is one person who is able to vary their handwriting:

Here is a portion of the end of the letter. You can see how the "th" and "e" vary though it doesn't appear to be the handwriting of two individuals. It appears that one individual at the close of the letter is not maintaining the "fancy style" consistently:


it is very clear that the 1590 letter was written by only one person, and that person varied their handwriting in very specific ways. That matches Henry Neville's other letters as well as the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf. I will provide more details on all of this later. But this is very important evidence to establish baseline samples for further comparisons.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Part 2: Henry Neville, Shakespeare, and the Northumberland Manuscript

In Part 1 I described the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf and explained how it relates to William Shakespeare. I went into great depth comparing Henry Neville's handwriting to the scribbles on the flyleaf. Since the handwriting is such a close match, and since the Neville surname and family motto are written on the flyleaf, it seems reasonable to think that Henry Neville might have owned it and made the scribbles.

Now, I will offer new evidence that, I believe, provides confirmation that it is, indeed, Henry Neville's handwriting. Henry Neville made scribbles that almost exactly match the scribbles on the flyleaf. I discovered this while examining his papers at the Berkshire Record Office.

Henry Neville's Pen Trials on a Draft Letter from 1598

Henry Neville had the practice (as was common at the time) of saving drafts of important letters as copies for his own records. We have about a dozen examples of these drafts from him. In the Berkshire Record Office, there is a draft letter from 1598, clearly written in Henry Neville's handwriting.

On the back of the letter there are some scribbles (or "pen trials"). Likely this was practice writing done before starting to write a letter and/or to test out a new pen nib. Here are the scribbles, note the section marked with the red arrow:

(You can download a zoomed-in version of the scribble at

The Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf is covered in scribbles too. That alone is not evidence that it is Henry Neville's writing; pen trials and similar scribbles were common at the time. What *is* notable, however, is that the exact same letter forms are scribbled on both documents. 

If you turn the front of the flyleaf upside down, many scribbles become legible. Here is the broad view of one part of the flyleaf with many "h" scribbles. Note especially the section marked with the arrow:

Compare this cluster of "h" scribbles from the flyleaf with the 1598 scribbles. It is almost an exact match:

Note how both sets of scribbles vary in similar ways. Some have a loop at the top; some don't. Some have an open bowl at the bottom; others are more closed. The handwriting appears to be the same, and the habit is the same. Another section of the flyleaf (also upside down orientation) has a similar group of the letter "h", some as part of words and some by themselves. I have underlined the letters:

There appears to be another cluster of the letter "h" on the front of the flyleaf:

Please compare these again. These three clusters on the flyleaf and the cluster on the 1598 pen trials are not just scribbles of the letter "h"; the letter forms vary in a similar way.

John Casson discovered a book inscribed by Henry Neville as a gift in 1600. If you look very closely, there are similar "h" scribbles, I have underlined them in red:

So it is very clear that Henry Neville had the habit of scribbling "h", just like the person who scribbled on the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf. 

Making sense of the scribbles

Reading the words on these scribbles, it immediately becomes apparent what Henry Neville is writing. "After my harty" and "After my harty commendacions" and "after my" are written on the right. 

On the left we have "To the right" and then "ho ho the the". Henry Neville often wrote "To the right honorable" when he was addressing a letter, sometimes abbreviating "honorable" with simply "ho".

Look at this section of the 1598 scribble:

Compare to these addresses he wrote. They all vary in different ways, most notably in the letter "e" which Neville varied depending on the formality of the letter. The capital 'T" varies as well in "To". But you can see how the 1598 scribbles are obviously practice writing for this type of address:

Now compare this from the text "To the" written on the back of the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf. Once again we see variations (especially in the capital T which varies tremendously in Neville's handwriting and on the flyleaf) but is an obvious match. It's not just the handwriting that matches, it's the habit of scribbling "To the". Compare with the three examples above:

Compare two examples of "the" from 1598 scribbles with this from the back of the flyleaf. The "h" letters vary in the shape somewhat and their formality, but otherwise the pen strokes of how letters are formed are exactly the same. 

Comparing "h"

We have been looking at one style of "h", but Neville had a completely distinct type of "h" he used in more formal correspondence. Look at these examples of "ho" from his letter to Cecil from 1600:

This second, more formal type of "h" is *also* in the 1598 scribbles and *also* on the Northumberland Manuscript flyleaf. Compare the "h" in this word "harty" from the 1598 scribbles with the flyleaf. The letters are almost a perfect match:

To repeat an example from Part 1, look at these at these five examples of the less formal type of "h" Henry Neville used in his correspondence, compared with the flyleaf:

The variation in the style of "h" is a match along with the habit of scribbling the letter "h". This is very strong evidence of a single person writing all of these documents, someone with a tendency to vary the same letter forms in the same specific ways.

Henry Neville's Pen Trials on a Draft Letter from 1594

I discovered another set of scribbles at the Berkshire Record Office on a draft letter from 1594. These also seem to  match quite closely the writing on the flyleaf. (Download a higher res version at

Comparing the letters

The word "And" is written twice with a capital "A" on the scribbles above. Compare to an example of a capital "A" on the flyleaf. It seems like an almost perfect match:

Something that looks like it might be the word "offer" appears on the 1594 scribbles. The common secretary hand double-f appears like an "A" with a loop on the top right to a modern eye. Those same letter forms are found on the flyleaf. When rotated upside down, there is a scribble of those letter forms; see the top right image below. The bottom two images are written as part of a Latin poem on the flyleaf. All four of these seem to be quite close matches:

A letter "h" is written, not connected to any other letters, on the flyleaf. It is the same style as Henry Neville uses in his formal letters (see above). Compare to the "h" in the word "that" written on the 1594 scribble. It appears to be an exact match.


Even before doing any handwriting or other comparisons, there is strong reason to believe the Henry Neville of Billingbear (d. 1615) owned the Northumberland Manuscript and scribbled on it. First, his family name is written twice on the flyleaf along with his family motto. These don't appear to be scribbles; they are quite nicely aligned with the rest of the normal writing on the document. In addition, the documents, such as essays by Francis Bacon and a letter from Philip Sidney, match closely his family and political alliances of the time. The timing of the document, 1594-1598, also matches Henry Neville's biography; he did not leave for France until 1599.

The handwriting analysis in Part 1 provides additional strong evidence to think that the writing is Henry Neville's. Many of the letter forms are almost precisely the same, and Henry Neville's handwriting varies in many of the same ways the flyleaf also varies.

When you add in this new evidence of Henry Neville's scribbles, especially the "h" scribbles which match so closely the ones on the flyleaf, it seems to me very likely that Henry Neville was indeed the owner and scribbler of the Northumberland Manuscript.

Feel free to contact me via email for source materials or further discussion of this issue. My email address is my name, kenfeinstein (at) gmail  . com.