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Letter from Richard Quiney to William Shakespeare
October 25,
1598

ER27/4, recto

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ER27/4, recto
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Institution Rights and Document Citation

 

Reproduced by permission of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Terms of use
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has graciously contributed images under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommerical ShareAlike 4.0 International license. Visitors may download, link to and cite the images for personal research only. Any further use, including, but not limited to, unauthorized downloading or distribution of the images, commercial or third party use, is strictly prohibited. Visitors must contact the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to request additional use, at: images.scla@shakespeare.org.uk

Document-specific information
Creator: Richard Quiney
Title: Quiney letter
Date: October 25, 1598
Repository: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK
Call number and opening: ER27/4

Item Creator
Richard Quiney
Item Title
Quiney Letter
Item Date
October 25, 1598
Repository
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK
Call Number
ER27/4, recto

ER27/4, verso

View Image Assets
ER27/4, verso
Click image to enlarge

Institution Rights and Document Citation

 

Reproduced by permission of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Terms of use
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has graciously contributed images under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommerical ShareAlike 4.0 International license. Visitors may download, link to and cite the images for personal research only. Any further use, including, but not limited to, unauthorized downloading or distribution of the images, commercial or third party use, is strictly prohibited. Visitors must contact the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to request additional use, at: images.scla@shakespeare.org.uk

Document-specific information
Creator: Richard Quiney
Title: Quiney letter
Date: October 25, 1598
Repository: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK
Call number and opening: ER27/4

Item Creator
Richard Quiney
Item Title
Quiney Letter
Item Date
October 25, 1598
Repository
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK
Call Number
ER27/4, verso

Institution Rights and Document Citation

 

Reproduced by permission of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Terms of use
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has graciously contributed images under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommerical ShareAlike 4.0 International license. Visitors may download, link to and cite the images for personal research only. Any further use, including, but not limited to, unauthorized downloading or distribution of the images, commercial or third party use, is strictly prohibited. Visitors must contact the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to request additional use, at: images.scla@shakespeare.org.uk

Document-specific information
Creator: Richard Quiney
Title: Quiney letter
Date: October 25, 1598
Repository: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK
Call number and opening: ER27/4

This is the only known surviving letter written to Shakespeare, but he may never have received it. (No known letters survive written by him.) It is addressed “To my Loveinge good ffrend & contreymann Mr. Wm Shackespere,” dated “ffrom the Bell in Carter Lane the 25 October 1598” and signed “Ryc. Quyney.” 

In October 1598 Richard Quiney, a mercer from Stratford-upon-Avon, who served his town as an alderman and bailiff (similar to a modern-day mayor), travelled to London on civic business. The Quiney and Shakespeare families were long associated. Richard’s grandfather, his namesake, was acquainted with Shakespeare’s grandfather Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield. His father, Adrian Quiney, was a colleague of Shakespeare’s father John in Stratford’s Corporation. More than a decade later, on February 10, 1616, Quiney’s third son Thomas married Shakespeare’s younger daughter Judith. Their first child, born nine months later in November 1616, was baptized Shakespeare Quiney.

Quiney’s letter requests Shakespeare’s assistance in raising £30 (the equivalent of several thousand dollars) to pay “all the debettes I owe in London.” This request indicates that Shakespeare was seen either as a potential moneylender, or, more likely, as a Stratford man sufficiently creditworthy in London to secure Quiney a loan. This latter interpretation is supported by Quiney’s wording, implying that Shakespeare was to obtain the money from a third party on his behalf: “I wyll holde my tyme [i.e. pay back on the due date] & content yowr ffrende.” Quiney offers, to stand surety for this loan together with either Richard Mytton or Thomas Bushell, two other Stratford men.

Quiney explains that he had approached Shakespeare because a third man, Peter Rosswell, “is nott come to London as yeate.” Rosswell was an associate of Edward Grevill, who, from other correspondence, is known to have been indebted to the Quineys. Therefore the underlying issue in this, and other surviving letters, may have been the frequently referenced interlocking network of debts between the parties, and their other friends and associates. 

Although Quiney had explained that he needed the £30 to settle his own debts, he had almost certainly made the approach on behalf of his friend, Abraham Sturley. Sturley had written to Quiney on October 16, bemoaning the fact that a bond for the repayment of £100 would become due on November 22, and that he was also in dire need of £25 to meet pressing creditors which he therefore hoped “might bi ur good labour & leisure be procured” (ER 1/97, f. 134). This would explain the wording of Sturley’s response to Quiney on November 4, after hearing the news of the negotiations, “that our countryman Mr Wm Shak: would procure us monej.”

Quiney’s letter to Shakespeare holds a certain mystery. After Quiney, died in May 1602 while still in office, the letter became part of a substantial cache of letters in the Stratford Corporation’s archives. Most of these letters were written to Quiney, but among them was this letter to Shakespeare. Its survival in Quiney's own archive suggests that Quiney never sent his letter to Shakespeare, perhaps because the two Stratford men instead met in London. Shakespeare, it seems, did help out in some way. In addition to Sturley’s letter establishing that an approach had been made, two other letters, from Adrian Quiney and Daniel Baker, imply that negotiations with Shakespeare were in hand.

The letter was discovered in the fall of 1793, when the Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone visited Stratford-upon-Avon, working his way through over three thousand papers in the Corporative archives. The letter was finally printed in 1821, almost thirty years after its discovery, and nine years after Malone’s death, when James Boswell, Jr. edited Malone’s posthumous Life of William Shakespeare. Early in the nineteenth century, the Stratford antiquary R.B. Wheler removed the letter, and other records, from the Corporation muniments to facilitate his own research. After Wheler's death, his sister gave his entire collection to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, thereby reuniting these “borrowed” items with the early Corporation archives which were similarly placed in the Trust’s care at that time. 

When Malone examined the letter, he described it to his friend Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore, as measuring “about three inches long by two broad.” An analysis of the visible folds in the letter, which measures roughly 5⅓ inches x 6⅓ inches (or more precisely, 136 x 168 mm) when opened, suggests that when Malone viewed it, the letter was still closed as a packet to be sent, and would in fact have measured roughly 2⅞ inches by 2 inches. Traces of Quiney's seal are still visible, indicating that the letter had been sealed for sending, and then opened at a later date.

Modernized/Translated transcriptions

[Address]

To my loving good friend and countryman, Mr. William Shakespeare, deliver these.

[Letter]

Loving countryman,

I am bold of you as of a friend, craving your help with 30 pounds upon Mr. Bushel's and my security, or Mr. Milton's with me. Mr. Roswell 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 towards 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 further you shall be 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 25th of October 1598.

Yours in all kindness,

Richard Quiney

 

Semi-diplomatic transcription

[Superscription:]

To my Loveinge good ffrend
& contreymann Mr William
Shackespere deliver thees

[Letter:]

Loveinge Contreyman I am bolde of yow as of a ffrende, craveinge
yowr helpe with xxxli vppon Mr Bushells & my securytee or Mr Myttons
with me Mr Rosswell is nott come to London as yeate & I have
especiall cawse, yow shall ffrende me muche in helpeinge me
out of all the debettes I owe in  London I thancke god & muche
quiet my mynde which wolde not be indebeted I am now towardes
the Cowrte in hope of answer for the dispatche of my Buysenes
yow shall nether loase creddytt nor monney by me the Lorde
wyllinge & nowe butt perswade yowr selfe soe as I hope & yow
shall nott need to feare butt with all hartie thanckefullenes I
wyll holde my tyme & content yowr ffrende & yf we Barg=
aine farther yow shalbe the paie master yowre selfe. my tyme biddes
me hasten to an ende & soe I committ thys [to] yowr care & hope
of yowr helpe. I feare I shall nott be backe thys night ffrom
the Cowrte. haste the Lorde be with yow & with vs all amen.
ffrom the Bell in Carter Lane the 25 October 1598.
Yowres in all kyndenes
Ryc. Quyney.

Co-written by Folger Shakespeare Library staff and Robert Bearman

Sources

Alan Stewart, Shakespeare's Letters

Robert Bearman, Shakespeare in the Stratford Records

 

Last updated January 26, 2017