When Bess discussed the best way to write a letter, she used the everyday metaphor of ‘plain language’. Here she described the advice she had given to her wayward granddaughter, Arbella Stuart, in an attempt to encourage Arbella to make her point ‘plainly’, a term she also used elsewhere to refer to her own language and to instruct others. 2 Plainness in this context meant language that avoided elaborate literary embellishments or ornamentation and that followed the precept of ‘brevity and aptness’ by getting to the point
‘in fewe lynes’. 3 It is language that avoided copiousness or prolixities of the kind found in Arbella’s ‘wonderfull’ and ‘strange courses’ of which Bess here thoroughly disapproved. In this way, Bess’s own comments revealed her awareness of contemporary theories about letter-writing, as advised by epistolary manuals or observed in practice. Declarations of ‘plainness’ themselves had a rhetorical function as they served to frame language as being sincere and ‘earnest’ while drawing on contemporary Protestant discourses of manifest truthfulness. 4 As Bess’s chosen modus operandi , when we read Bess’s letters we can observe that for her ‘plainness’ was associated with fi nding the most effective way to present a case or request according to available epistolary models and conventions. Her letter-writing involved a disciplined approach to matters of decorum and attended to matching the letter’s form to its intended purpose and function. Her letter-writing was precisely orientated towards a goal or desired outcome. 5 Where textualised emotion was included, it had a strategic purpose and was mindful of its anticipated reception. This goal-orientated attitude to letter-writing was quite the opposite of any notion of letters as vehicles for uncontrolled emotional catharsis or psychological release whereby the desire for an outpouring of expression took precedence over concerns with outcomes and reception.