This letter was written and signed by Sir Robert Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, to the Archbishop of Pisa (likely Archbishop Giuliano de' Medici, who presided from 1620-1635). The letter is written in broken Italian, as English was not his first language, although he had moved to Italy in 1606. Dudley, who was the illegitimate child of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and his lover Douglas Sheffield, was not granted his father's title upon his death. However after residing in Italy for a number of years, Emperor Ferdinand II made Dudley Duke of Northumberland in 1620, which had been his grandfather's title. Although much of the verbiage in the letter is vague and simply references previous letters or conversations, the contents relate to a dowry of 10,000 ducats to be paid to Dudley. The dowry was likely for one of his son's hands in marriage, although Dudley also served as a courtier and assisted in the negotiations of arranged marriages between both English and Italian nobility. In the letter, Dudley requests an advance of 4,200 ducats on the dowry to be paid, although the reason for this advance is not given. The postscript note at bottom explains that Dudley intends to put the dowry in the Monte di Pietà (Mount of Piety), an institution that originated in Italy as an alternative to a bank and operated similar to a pawnbroker. It is likely that Dudley was having financial troubles, as he mentioned such matters in correspondences with others at the time, which he largely blamed on the cost of educating his children. He fathered 5 children (all daughters) with his second wife, Alice, and 12 children (both sons and daughters) with his third wife, Elizabeth. The letter is written in brown ink on a bi-folium and is addressed on verso, with the notation of "in mano suo" (a directive for the letter to be delivered directly into the Archibishop's hands).
Robert Dudley was the first Englishman to produce a sea atlas, Dell Arcano del Mare (Secrets of the Sea). This important atlas was the first sea atlas of the whole world; the first to use Mercator's projection throughout; the earliest to show the prevailing winds, currents and magnetic deviation; and the first to expound the advantages of Great Circle Sailing. It contained some of the first detailed sea charts of any part of North America. It was only issued in two editions in 1646-47 and 1661, and the maps are lauded for their elegant style and fine calligraphy.
Many thanks to Michael Jennings of Neatline Maps for his assistance in translating this letter.
The bi-folium has two dampstains along the folds that have caused holes at the center, one of which has caused a bit of loss of text in the letter. There is some additional soiling, worm tracks at top left, and chips along the edges of the rear portion of the bi-folium.