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seminar: Dr David van der Linden (Groningen) and Prof. Penny Roberts (Warwick) 'Letterlocking in Early Modern France'

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Location: H3.03 Humanities building, University of Warwick

Letterlocking in Early Modern France 

Hidden away in the vaults of the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague lies a trunk containing a most extraordinary archive: 2,600 letters written mostly in French and dispatched to The Hague between 1689 and 1706, none of which were ever delivered – 600 of these still remain unopened. The trunk and its contents belonged to postmaster Simon de Brienne and his wife Maria Germain, who were jointly responsible for delivering all mail from France. These letters represent the thoughts, cares, and dreams of a cross-section of early modern French society: ambassadors, dukes and duchesses, merchants, publishers, spies, actors, musicians, lovers, parents, refugees, women as well as men. Yet rather than focus on the contents of their missives, as historians often do, the aim of my paper is to explore the letters’ material form. As the letters have been preserved in their folded state, we are able to study the manifold ways in which early modern authors folded and sealed their letters for optimal epistolary security – what is called ‘letterlocking’. Moreover, the annotations scribbled on the undelivered letters as well as Brienne’s meticulous administration offer a unique insight in the mechanics of international postal networks at the time. As part of this presentation I will also offer a hands-on letterlocking session, inviting participants to write, fold, and seal their own letters based on formats from the Brienne collection.

Dr David van der Linden, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Seminar 9 January 2020

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