The Letters of Edward I: Political Communication in the Thirteenth Century

Dr Kathleen Neal

About the project

My forthcoming book The Letters of Edward I: Political Communication in the Thirteenth Century, applies communication theory to the administrative correspondence of a medieval royal government to show how letters were crafted as sophisticated rhetorical devices, both influencing and influenced by 'real' political events.

The physical and textual evidence of thousands of surviving letters and drafts shows how Edward I of England (ruled 1272–1307) recruited experienced continental rhetoricians into his service, and collaborated with them and other carefully-trained clerks to curate a 'royal voice' that was carefully-tailored to speak for him anywhere in his domains, and in diplomatic situations. I argue that developments in the rhetoric and production of royal letters across Edward's long reign reflected the shifting relationships between king and polity that were generated by warfare and conquest, financial pressures, legal principles and political demands.

Rather than representing a relatively fixed and formulaic genre governed by the arcane habits of administrators, royal letters were a subtle and agile genre, in which the king could articulate the ethos on which he based his interactions with the political communities under his dominion.