This essay examines the supplicatory letter the Swedish-born Helena, marchioness of Northampton, addressed to Thomas Radcliffe, third earl of Sussex, in 1576 or 1577, hoping he would help her regain access to Elizabeth I. The essay situates the letter within the early modern patronage system and the court environment, but foremost within the field of early modern letter-writing in general, and the supplicatory letter in particular. The essay shows how a number of rhetorical strategies, designed to inspire pity and benevolence mainly through ethos and pathos, are employed to create positions for both supplicant and addressee. In this way, the letter reaches the desired goal of regaining royal presence. By looking at the letter through the frames of early modern letter-writing and more general rhetorical practise, the essay points to a tension between the letter’s stated sentiment of “utter confusion” and its highly formalised expression, indicative of the letter’s rhetorical situation and especially of the constraints related to its sender’s social status. The letter is transcribed in an appendix.

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