Brienne: Treasure trove of Gossip, Scandal and Intrigue

A treasure trove unaffected by time: 2600 messages full of gossip, scandal and intrigue.

Simon de Brienne was a 17th-century postmaster in The Hague. Back then, letters that were undelivered – because someone could not or refused to pay for them – were stored. These letters form a treasure trove unaffected by time: 2600 letters full of gossip, scandal and intrigue. The letters also contain fascinating insights into daily life and the emotions people were dealing with at that time.

Did you know that …

… you can browse the exhibition of the Brienne chest online?
… the letters of postmaster De Brienne are the subject of international research Signed, Sealed & Undelivered for which a London dentist lab took X-rays of the unopened letters?
… in the 17th century, letters were often folded in special, personal ways? This is called letter locking. This meant it was impossible to secretly open the letter. Apparently, back in the 17th century, privacy was also an issue.
… seal skin was used to adorn the chest? Back then, this was the best possible material to ensure something remained watertight or ‘sealed’. The skin is still in an exceptionally good condition.
… the letters give insight into the lives of ordinary people in the 17th century? A quote by Dr. David van der Linden: “Many Huguenots had fled the religious persecutions under Louis XIV, while others remained in France. Letters were the only way of keeping contact. These letters illustrate what emotional toll this had on people who fled France and were separated from their families.”

The research team consists of dr. Nadine Akkerman (University of Leiden/NIAS), dr. David van der Linden (University of Groningen), drs. Koos Havelaar who previously worked for Sound and Vision the Hague, Jana Dambrogio (MIT Libraries), dr. Rebekah Ahrendt (Yale University) and dr. Daniel Starza Smith (Lincoln College, Oxford).

The letters are available here via EMLO (Early Modern Letters Online).

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