RICHARD QUINEY’S LETTER TO WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, 25 OCTOBER 1598
It was the Shakespeare scholar and editor Edmond Malone who made the discovery while trawling through some three thousand documents relating to Stratford upon Avon in 1793. In a letter of that year, Malone describes the ‘very pretty little relick, about three inches long by two broad’.
It’s a fascinating human document. The year was 1598 and Richard Quiney, whose son Thomas was later to marry Shakespeare’s younger daughter, was in London. He was there to petition the Privy Council for a new, more favourable charter for Stratford and for relief from the latest subsidy voted by Parliament. Times were hard in Stratford at that point: bad weather, poor harvests and two devastating fires had caused havoc with the local economy. Poor Quiney was forced to wait in London for four months. He had been looking for support from the lord of the manor, Sir Edward Greville and, on 25 October wrote from his lodgings at ‘The Bell’ in Carter Lane, London (just south of where the Old Bailey stands today) to his ‘Lovinge good ffrend & contreymann Mr Wm Shackespere’. Quiney asks for a loan of £30 (about £3,750 in today’s money). In fact it seems likely that Shakespeare never received the letter, since when Quiney died after a tavern brawl with Greville’s men in 1602, the letter was included among his papers in the archives of Stratford corporation. It is documented elsewhere that Shakespeare at least tried to help, so maybe the two men met in person instead. In any case there was a happy end, since eventually Queen Elizabeth agreed to relieve Stratford and the Exchequer reimbursed Quiney for his London expenses.
Transcription of the Quiney Letter:
Addressed on the reverse: To my Loveinge good ffrend & contreyman mr Wm Shackespere.
Loving countryman, I am bold of you as a friend, craving your help with 30 pounds upon Mr Bushell's and my security or Mr Mytton's with me. Mr Rosswell is not come to London as yet and I have especial cause. You shall friend me much in helping me out of all the debts I owe in London, I thank God, and much quiet my mind which would not be indebted. I am now toward the court in hope of answer for the dispatch of my business. You shall neither lose credit nor money by me, the Lord willing, and now but persuade yourself, so as I hope, and you shall not need to fear but with all hearty thankfulness I will hold my time and content your friend, and if we bargain farther you shall be the paymaster yourself. My time bids me hasten to an end and so I commit this [to] your care and hope of your help. I fear I shall not be back this night from the Court. Haste. The Lord be with you and with us all, amen. From the Bell in Carter Lane the 25 October 1598.
Yours in all kindness,