The Secretary of Ladies and Feminine Friendship at the Court of
Ierome Hainhofer’s English translation of Jacques du Bosque’s The Secretary of Ladies, Or a New Collection of Letters and Answers Composed by Moderne Ladies and Gentlewomen (originally published in French in 1635) was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 2 August 1638.1 The word ‘secretary’ in the title signals generic continuity with Angel Day’s The English Secretary (1586; tenth edition 1635). By contrast, this is a collection of letters exchanged between female friends and not a letter-writing manual. Du Bosque claims that the collection will ‘make it appear that Letters are not the particular heritage of one sex; and that men are out, when they vant themselves sole Monarchs in the Empire of the sciences’.2 To level the challenge represented by women’s writing at the government of ‘the Empire of the sciences’ has implications beyond the sphere of printed books. Like Day’s letter-writing manual, The Secretary of Ladies uses epistolary discourse to claim discursive citizenship but it does so through the familiar letter, or the genre of community. In the English translation, the challenge which feminine discourse presents to the singular privileges of men generates specific local connections between monarchy, empire, sovereignty and governance. This is an encrypted text whose meaning is embedded in multiple layers of authorship, translation and collection. The translator’s dedication to Mary Sackville, Countess of Dorset, a prominent courtier, associates the displacement of popular English letters by aristocratic feminine letters with the court of the Queen Consort Henrietta Maria. The Secretary of Ladies takes the weaker term from a set of commonplace binaries – feminine/masculine, popish/Anglican and foreign/English – to create a rhetoric for a political minority. In the political climate of the 1630s, the volume’s implicit claim for the sovereignty of an autonomous community of ‘Moderne ladies and Gentlewomen’ threatens the natural, patriarchal familial order of the English state.