“My evil favoured writing”: Uglyography, Disease, and the Epistolary Networks of George Talbot, Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury


George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, is infamous among historians and paleographers of sixteenth-century England for the thousands of documents he has left in his horrible handwriting, or uglyography. Taking this unanimously bemoaned situation as its point of departure, this study uses a selection of Shrewsbury’s surviving letters to explore what more his handwriting can tell us when considered in conjunction with the letters’ contents and the Elizabethan sociocultural interpretations of poor handwriting and disease. In particular, “gout” (the term Shrewsbury himself uses for his infirmity) is described as a paleopathological condition that had significant implications not only for legibility but also for the management of Shrewsbury’s epistolary networks and the discourse of illness found throughout his correspondence with his second wife, Bess of Hardwick, as well as other period figures, specifically Burghley and Elizabeth I.