Commonplace book including notes on espionage

Scope and Content

Commonplace book, [1590-1620], containing contemporary transcripts of various notes, treatises and sermons. The first part of the volume comprises notes in Latin, Greek and English of a theological nature, initially organised under alphabetical headings. Among these notes is a transcript of instructions for secret agents in France, drawn up by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, for three different agents in the period 1595-1596. The copyist has copied three separate documents to form a single continuous document. The first part of the transcript is composed of the directions given by the Earl to Dr Henry Hawkyns, who was sent to Venice late in 1595 to perforn espionage and quasi-diplomatic functions for Essex and Queen Elizabeth I. The second part of the document consists of the instructions to [Anthony] Ersfield or Eversfield, who was sent to Paris to gather intelligence for Essex at the end of 1595. The third and final part of the document comprises the directions drawn up by Essex for Robert Naunton, whom the Earl sent to study under Antonio Perez in France in early 1596. Other notes from the first part of the volume include 'Of artillery' and notes on ships headed 'On shipping', the latter comprising details of the Queen's charges for maintaining large ships. There is an index to this section which omits the theological notes. The second part of the volume includes transcripts of sermons delivered on 10 Mar 1588 at Greenwich before the Queen, on 'Queene's daye', 1588, and on Christmas day 1588 and 1589; notes on what to observe when travelling abroad; notes on minerals; notes on heraldry; notes taken 'out of an ould Cronicle in Waverly Abbey'; 'The copye of the Great Turkes stile which he commonly useth'; and 'The copye of the Emperor of Russia or Muscovy his stile', taken from a letter to King Edward VI in 1553. There is a table of contents to this section.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1567-1601) was an English soldier and courtier of Queen Elizabeth I. During the years 1592 to 1596, Essex became an expert on foreign affairs, mainly to challenge the ascendency of the Cecil family in this field. He kept secret agents who obtained detailed political intelligence from France, Scotland and Spain, and extended his friendship and patronage to Antonio Perez, a Spanish renegade.


Single item.

Access Information

Access to the items in the collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the controlled environment and restrictions of the Library's Palaeography Room. Access to archive collections may be restricted under the Freedom of Information Act. Please contact the University Archivist for details.


See letter from Paul Hammer under 'H' in ULL Historic Collections Enquiry Letters files

Other Finding Aids

Collection level description.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Manuscript quarto. Bound in niger morocco.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Sarah Smith as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project.

Separated Material

Another copy of Essex's instructions to Dr Henry Hawkyns and [Anthony] Ersfield may be found at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University (Ref: MS Eng hist c.121). Although it also records the beginning of his instructions to Robert Naunton, it breaks off abruptly after only a few lines. A further copy of the directions to Ersfield may be found in the papers of Anthony Bacon in Lambeth Palace Library, London (Ref: MS 652). It bears the endorsed date of 25 Oct 1595.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be made, subject to the condition of the original. Copying must be undertaken by the Palaeography Room staff, who will need a minimum of 24 hours to process requests.

Custodial History

From the library of the London Institution.

Geographical Names