“A New Yeer’s Guift
for the Right Honorable
and Vertuous Lord
my Lord Sidney
of the Hand Writing
and Limming of Mee
Esther Inglis the first
of January, 1606 ”
Have you ever wanted to be part of a closed social group? Did you make a book to win over the queen bee? If that idea sounds ridiculous to you, that’s only because you don’t move in the 17th century English court. Skilled artisan Esther Inglis (1571-1624) strategically traded handmade books to gain access to circles of social power and patronage. You can see one of Inglis’s books at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas (it’s about the size of an old flip phone). Books like these were among the signals of luxury and status that the wealthy passed around on New Year’s Day.
As a member of the artisan class, Inglis depended on wealthy patrons like Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester, for income. In fact, Inglis and her parents had immigrated to England to make a life through calligraphy and craft book-making. Because of their difference in social status, Sidney would not have known Inglis before getting this gift. In that high school movie you saw that one time, you can think of Sidney as the leader of the power girl trio and Inglis as the unknown arts kid. It was a particularly smart move for Inglis to try to get Sidney as a patron, because he was part of a powerful family shaping arts, culture, and politics. Think the Kennedys of Renaissance England.
Inglis used her inscription page for clear self-promotion. She unusually emphasized her good handwriting and boldly put her name front and center. During the early modern period, women often instead apologized for bad handwriting and avoided writing their names. Today, researchers continue to study Inglis’s books to learn more about the life and habits of a woman connected to high society who made her living through book-making. Inglis expands our ideas about early English women’s reading and writing beyond queens and ladies to hard-working hustlers.
- You can read more about Esther Inglis’s book and its place within the collection on this page from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
- The Folger Library blog, The Collation, wrote this blog about Inglis. We’re pro-cursive at TiP, too!
- To learn more about how gifts focused around New Year’s Day fueled social groups, check out Felicity Heal’s The Power of Gifts: Gift-Exchange in Early Modern England.