A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges

Christ Church MS. 578

Letters from Robert Dorsett to Sir Philip Sidney; England (Oxford and Ewelme), 1575-76

Contents

Summary of Contents: A collection of eleven letters, loose, unbound, and in a now-disintegrating coarse paper wrapper (s. xix), they are presently held in a guard box with photostats and other material relevant to the items. Now ordered chronologically but previously followed a different order, as shown by the pencil foliation (s. xix) at top right, which itself superseded another order, arranged by a system of the letter D (for Dorsett) followed by a number, written in pencil and later over-written in pen at top left (s. xviii; see provenance). Each letter also has written in pen at top centre, in another hand (s. xix), its date of composition. Because of their status as independent items, each letter is described individually below. All are written by one hand, that of Robert Dorsett, employing an italic script which is often calligraphic in its aspect, though in some items, particularly item 11, it is more current. Dorsett (?1546-1580) was educated at Christ Church, being a student from 1561, and taking his BA 1 February 1565, MA 9 July 1567, supplicating for BD 3 September 1575 and being awarded DD April 1579; he was ordained deacon 30 November 1568 and priest 24 October 1572; he was appointed rector of Winwick (Northants) in the same year and, two years later, on 15 May 1574, instituted rector of Ewelme where, it would seem, he established his family home; he was appointed dean of Chester in 1579 but died 29 May 1580 and was buried in Ewelme (AO; CCEd). He was deeply involved in ChCh matters in the mid-1570s, pressing the cause (as he mentions in our item 1) for William James (on whom, see item 11) to be appointed Dean rather than Tobie Matthew; his letters to the Queen and the earl of Leicester gained a small circulation, surviving in CUL, MS Mm.i.49 (Baker 38), Bod., MSS Top. Oxon e. 5 and Auct F.5.13. He served as tutor to Philip Sidney and to his younger brother, Robert, who is mentioned several times in these letters; he was also the dedicatee of poems by William Gager (on whom, see our MS 486). He married, his wife dying in the same year as him (Roger Kuin, The Correspondence of Sir Philip Sidney, 2 vols (Oxford, 2012), 1:xli surmises that they succumbed to the plague); they left a two-year-old daughter, who grew up to be, as Martha Moulsworth, a poetess, and who was to write affectionately of a father she could only dimly remember in her autobiography, uniquely extant in Yale University: Beinecke Library, MS Osborn fb150, and edited by Robert C. Evans and Barabara Wiedemann, ‘My Names was Martha’. A Renaissance Woman’s Autobiographical Poem (West Cornwall CT, 1993); for discussion, see the essays in Robert C. Evans and Anne C. Little, ‘The Muses Females Are’. Martha Moulsworth and other Women Writers of the English Renaissance (West Cornwall CT, 1995), and Elizabeth Mazzola, Learning and literacy in female hands, 1520-1698, Farnham, 2013), 91-93; see also Matthew Steggle, ‘The text and attribution of “Thou who dost all my earthly thoughts employ”: a new Moulsworth poem?’, Early Modern Literary Studies, 6 (2001), 3.1-8 [freely available on-line].

History

Origin: England (Oxford and Ewelme); 1575-76

Provenance and Acquisition

The letters which share this manuscript number appeared at auction in Sotheby’s London rooms on 26 June 1967 as lot 742. They had, in fact, arrived at the auction house as part of a larger collection of seventy-six letters, all of which came from the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872). They had reached that bibliomaniac from the collection of the antiquary Benjamin Heywood Bright (1787-1843), whose manuscripts were sold by Sotheby’s on 18 June 1844, with the full seventy-six letters appearing as no. 243 (Schoenberg database, no. 20669; a label with the number appears on the coarse paper wrapper once covering the letters) and being sold to the bookseller Payne for £50 (hand-written note in Bodleian copy); Phillipps presumably purchased the collection from or via Payne. It became his MS 11762. When it re-appeared at auction, Sotheby’s divided up the set, with the majority sold separately from those from Robert Dorsett and with ChCh purchasing those written by its former Canon with assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries (the purchase and its contents is described briefly by J. F. A. Mason in the Friends’ Annual Report for 1967, 8-9). The remaining sixty-five letters were bought by James M. Osborn, who announced their significance in ‘New Light on Sir Philip Sidney’, Times Literary Supplement, 30 April 1970, 487, and subsequently used them, and the ones now in ChCh, as the basis for his volume Young Philip Sidney. The letters he bought are now Yale University, Beinecke Library, Osborn fa14.

The earlier history of the collection from which MS 578 comes has been shrewdly reconstructed by Roger Kuin (Correspondence, 1:xxv-xxix). He surmises that a yet larger collection of Sidney letters – which he denotes as ‘X’ – was held at Penshurst but left there and appeared at auction in London, as several lots, on 9 April 1811. The main buyer was James Bindley (1737-1818), who obtained those letters which were, following his death, purchased by Bright. Other letters from ‘X’ followed various routes from the 1811 sale to find themselves eventually in the British Library (in MSS Add. 15914, 17520, 18675 and 21522); some, however, remain unaccounted for and Kuin provides a tentative reconstruction of what is presently lost (Correspondence, 2:1331).

It might be added that, early in their life, there had clearly been some attempts to identify and order the letters. First, there were the added endorsements to items 4-8, with similar additions being found on other letters in ‘X’ (for an example from the Yale Osborn collection, see Kuin, Correspondence, 1:pl. 1, noting that that addition is in English while, as our items 4 and 7 demonstrate, those here are in the same script but in Italian). Later (seemingly in the eighteenth century), a system of a letter and a number was added above the opening of each letter, where the letter was the first of the correspondent’s surname, so, for instance, our item 1 was D27 (these annotations are explained by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:xxvi). In other words, though the appearance of the two lots at the Sotheby’s sale in 1967 was, as Osborn declared in his TLS article, a revelation to Sidney scholars, there had been a long history of respecting them as evidence of his life and contemporary standing.

Item 1

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Duplex mihi iam officium incumbit
Explicit: [verso] quam nitissime conservet. Vale. Oxon

Letter of 3 June 1575, edited by Roger Kuin, The Correspondence of Sir Philip Sidney, 2 vols(Oxford, 2012), 1:441-44 (reading date as 2 June).

Second folio blank except for address at the centre of the verso (‘Nobilissimo Cultissimoque Juveni D. Philippo Sidneyo apud Honoratissimum Comitem Leicestrensem in Aulâ Regiâ commoranti hae literae tradantur.), and showing signs of having been folded and stamped with a red wax seal. Text written with left-hand margin of 60mm and extending, on the recto, to the very right edge, where there is some damage and repair, with loss of a few letters, particularly at bottom right corner of recto.

Previously fol. 115-116, and ‘D27’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark: crown over ‘GM’, Briquet 9420: Toulouse, 1569)
Extent: Bifolium.
Dimensions (leaf): 318 × 212 mm.

Item 2

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Quanta vis fraterni sit amoris
Explicit: hic tu nos videbis. Oxon

Letter of 21 June 1575, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:470-72.

Verso of first folio and all of second folio except for address, inverted, at centre right of second verso (‘Clarissimo Domino Philippo Sidneyo apud honoratissimum Comitem Leicestriae commoranti hae literae tradantur’). Also at that verso, signs of folding and stamping with a red wax seal and a contemporaneous note, vertically at top left, recording sender and date. Text written with left-hand margin of 43mm and extending to the very right edge, where there is now some damage and repair but with loss of a few letters to most lines.

Previously fol. 117-118 and ‘D28’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark: crown over ‘GM’)
Extent: Bifolium.
Dimensions (leaf): 310 × 210 mm.

Item 3

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Quae nobis iniecta nuper fuit
Explicit: meis precibus commendo. Vale. Oxon. Idib. Octo[b] 1575. || Tibi tuisque deditissimus. Robertus Dorsett.

Letter of 15 October 1575, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:538-39. A monochrome image of this letter appears in James M. Osborn, Young Philip Sidney 1572-1577 (New Haven CT, 1972), facing 295.

Verso of first folio and all of second folio except for address, inverted, at centre right of second verso (‘Ad Clarissimum Dominum Philippum Sidneium hae dentur literae’; information repeated to left in another hand with probationes pennae below). Some signs of folding and stamping with a red wax seal. Text written with left-hand margin of 50mm and extending to very right edge, where there is some damage and repair, with a few letters missing.

Previously fol. 123-24 and ‘D33’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark: flower of ?seven petals, not identifiable in Briquet).
Extent: Bifolium.
Dimensions (leaf): 282 × 220 mm.

Item 4

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Nisi iam extremus actus mei muneris
Explicit: cum omni dignitate perpetuet. Vale. Oxon

Letter of 24 October 1575, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:551-52.

Verso of first folio and all of second folio blank, except for address at centre-top left of second verso (‘Ad Clarissimum Dominum Philippum Sydneium hae dentur literae’); at the bottom right of same verso, written vertically, in another, near-contemporary hand which also appears on items 5-8: ‘1575 Da domino Dorsetto 9 Calendas Novembris L:’. Text written with a left-hand margin of 54mm, extending very close to the right edge of the page.

Previously fol. 129-30 and ‘D30’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark: pot with letters ‘PO’, close to but not identical with Briquet 12801).
Extent: Bifolium.
Dimensions (leaf): 308 × 210 mm.
(with the second folio lacking vertical strip)

Item 5

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Literas ad me dedit whitus tuus
Explicit: suis ornamentis illustret. Oxon

Letter of 31 October 1575, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:553-54.

Verso blank, except for the remains of a note, written vertically, in same hand as that seen adding a note to item 4: ‘novembris L:’. This demonstrates there is a loss of a vertical strip from the left-hand edge of recto, which is now strengthened by a paper strip. As a result, the left-hand margin before the text is not as ample as usual, being 30mm. The text extends to very right edge of folio, and the correspondent’s signature sits at the very bottom of the page, now damaged.

Previously fol. 131 and ‘D31’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark: as in item 4).
Extent: Folio.
Dimensions (leaf): 290 × 190 mm.

Item 6

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Dedit literas ad humanitatem tuam
Explicit: omnes honores fortunet. Vale. Oxon. Nonas Novemb. 1575. || Tam tuus, quam qui maxime Robertus Dorsett.

Letter of 5 November 1575, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:561-62.

Verso of first folio and all of second folio blank, except for the address at top-centre left of second verso (‘Praenobili Domino Philippo Sidneio tradantur istae literae.’). At bottom right of that verso, written vertically, a partial note – ‘1575 Dominus Dor¦¦ nonas noue¦¦ L:’ – in the hand seen on items 4 etc, and demonstrating that a horizontal strip has been removed at the bottom of the bifolium. Signs of folding and stamping with a red wax seal. Text written with a left-hand margin of 56mm and extending to the very right edge of the folio.

Previously fol. 125-26 and ‘D29’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark: as in item 4).
Extent: Bifolium
Dimensions (leaf): 282 × 210 mm.
(with the second folio lacking vertical strip)

Item 7

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Clarissime Domine actis infinitis gratijs
Explicit: ne sim longior. Vale. Oxon

Letter of 1 December 1575, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:577-78.

First verso and all of second folio blank, except for address, inverted at centre left of second verso ‘Clarissimo Domino Philippo Sydneio’). The information is repeated in the hand seen in items 4-6 at top right corner, written vertically: ‘1575 Da domino Dorsetto Calendas Decembris L:’. Signs of folding. Text written with a left-hand margin of 57mm, extending to the very right edge.

Previously fol. 134-35 and ‘D32’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark: as in item 4).
Extent: Bifolium
Dimensions (leaf): 305 × 210 mm.
(but with the second folio lacking a substantial vertical strip)

Item 8

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Etsi nihil apud nos extat novi
Explicit: ad eum scripsimus) perferat. Vale. Oxon. 10o Calend. Febr. 1575. || Totus tuus ad arbritrium tuum Robertus Dorsett.

Letter of 23 January 1576, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:621-22.

First verso and all of second folio blank except for address at top centre (‘Ad clarissimum Dominum Philippum Sidneium hae dentur literae.’), with the hand seen at item 4 etc also adding at top right, vertically: ‘1575 Da domino Dorsetto 10 Calendas februarij L:’. Some signs of folding and of stamping with a red wax seal. Text written with a left-hand margin of 55mm, and extending close to right-hand edge.

Previously fol. 121-22 and ‘D25’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark as item 4).
Extent: Bifolium
Dimensions (leaf): 307 × 211 mm.

Item 9

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: En tibi cum istis tuam alteram
Explicit: florentem diutissime conservet. Vale. Oxon

First verso and all of second folio blank except for address at top centre (‘Clarissimo Domino Philippo Sidneyo hae literae tradantur’). Some signs of folding and of stamping with a red wax seal. Text written with a left-hand margin of 54mm, and extending close to right-hand edge.

Previously fol. 132-33 and ‘D26’.

Letter of 21 March 1576, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:651-52.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark as item 4).
Extent: Bifolium
Dimensions (leaf): 308 × 211 mm.

Item 10

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Si iam tandem certum sit
Explicit: atque etiam velimus. Vale. Ewelmij. 16o Calend. Junij. 1576. || Tuus ad arbitrium tuum Robertus Dorsett.

First verso and all of second folio blank except for address at top centre (‘Ad Illustrissimum Dominum Philippum Sidneium hae dentur literae’). Some signs of folding and, faintly, of stamping with a red wax seal. Text written with a left-hand margin of 56mm, and extending right to right-hand edge, where there is some damage and repair, but with hardly any loss of text.

Previously fol. 119-20 and ‘D34’.

Letter of 17 May 1576, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:669-70.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark as item 4).
Extent: Bifolium
Dimensions (leaf): 290 × 211 mm.
(but with second folio cut down at vertical edge and bottom)

Item 11

Contents

Language(s): Latin

Incipit: Sic nostrae sunt, ut ille poëta loquitur,
Explicit: officiosissime commendo. Vale. Oxon. 9o Calend. Julij. 1576. || Totus tuum ad arbitrium tuus Robertus Dorsett.

Letter of 23 June 1576, edited by Kuin, Correspondence, 1:694-96.

First verso and all of second folio blank except for address at top centre by Dorsett but in a smaller script than usual (‘Praeclarissimo Domino Philippo Sidneio hae traduntur literae’). Some signs of folding and of stamping with a red wax seal. Text written with a left-hand margin of 42mm and extending close to right edge. In the space at bottom left, another hand adds (as announced in the main body of the letter) a note of good wishes and signs it ‘Guil. James’. William James (d. 1617) was a Houseman (BA 1562, MA 1566, BA 1572, DD 1574), and, at the time of this letter, Master of University College; he had been proposed for the Deanship, as mentioned in the text of item 1 above, but was preferred to that position only in 1584, holding it until his translation to the Deanery of Durham in 1596; he was promoted to that bishopric in 1606, but his episcopacy was to prove contentious (Michael Tillbrook in Oxford DNB; AO). At the verso of the second folio, written vertically, are some scribbled calculations in pounds sterling.

Previously fol. 127-28 and ‘D35’.

Physical Description

Form: sheet
Support: Paper (watermark: coat-of-arms, with three stars around a ?crescent; not in Briquet).
Extent: Bifolium
Dimensions (leaf): 245 × 164 mm.

Additional Information

Record Sources

Ralph Hanna and David Rundle, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts, to c. 1600, in Christ Church, Oxford (Oxford, 2017).

Availability

For enquiries relating to this manuscript please contact Christ Church Library.