Regarded as the best letter writer of his time, John Chamberlain, through his extant letters written from 1597 to 1626, describes life from the end of the Tudor period through the Jacobean period. The son of an ironmonger and alderman, the weak and sickly Chamberlain lived a protected life, never marrying. He attended Cambridge but obtained no degree and traveled little, preferring never to stray far from London, where he lived with family and friends not far from St. Paul's all his life. He was of the middle class himself, and his circle of friends included Thomas Bodley, diplomat and later founder of the Bodleian Library; Sir Rowland Lytton and the Fanshawes; William Thomas Allen, math­ematician and antiquary; Sir William Gilbert,* physician to Queen Anne; Lancelot Andrewes,* bishop of Ely and then of Winchester; William Camden,* historian; and Inigo Jones, architect and masque writer.
Dudley Carleton, a diplomat for James I* made Lord Dorchester under Charles I, and Sir Ralph Winwood, secretary of state under James I, were Cham­berlain's most intimate friends. Most of his letters were written to Carleton. In his forties, Chamberlain became a news gatherer for Carleton, and with his connections at court, his access to the news and intrigue of London, and his eye for detail, Chamberlain was a great benefit to his friend. Chamberlain lived his life near Old St. Paul's and walked in Paul's Walk every day, where he gathered material for his letters. Not simply the cathedral's nave, this spot was the mart where lords, gentry, and men of all professions gathered and conversed. Cham­berlain made his occupation that of the spectator, and his letters, marked with consideration and frankness, show a disinterestedness, a mark of a good corre­spondent. To read his letters is to understand life in the period. From gossip at plays to courtship, fashion, and the plaque, from the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury* to the Gunpowder Plot, Chamberlain reveals the ordinary life of court, city, and countryside and provides a discriminating picture of the end of the reign of Elizabeth* through the beginning of that of Charles I.
J. Chamberlain, The Chamberlain Letters, ed. E. Thomson, 1965.
Megan S. Lloyd

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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