This chapter has several aims: historiographical, methodological, and thematic. Beginning with an emblematic case study of Elizabeth, countess of Shrewsbury, it challenges assumptions of letter-writing as private, elite, male, and non-political. It places the study of 16th-century women's letter-writing in the context of recent developments in social history, as well as within the context of current approaches to women's history, historiography, and literature. It further outlines the scope and main themes of the book, analyses issues of female literacy and education, and addresses methodological and conceptual issues relating both to the nature of letters as a source, and the degree to which epistolary models scripted social relations. Finally, the chapter looks at the politics of female letter-writing, assessing the significance of women's ‘networking’ letters and letters of petition, and their involvement in manuscript news networks.
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