De Briennes

DB-1174 Detail of an unopened letter inserted in an open wrapper. Courtesy of the Museum voor Communicatie, The Hague.

DB-1174 Detail of an unopened letter inserted in an open wrapper. Courtesy of the Museum voor Communicatie, The Hague.

The owner of the trunk was Simon Veillaume, better known as Simon de Brienne (d.1707). This self-styled Lord of Brienne, a former servant of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, was a Frenchman who arrived in The Hague in 1669. He was appointed as the city’s Postmaster in 1676 and his wife Maria Germain (d.1703) as Postmistress in 1686; they were responsible for the delivery of all letters to and from France, the Southern Netherlands, and Spain. Brienne also amassed a fortune as chamberlain and confidant to Stadholder Willem van Nassau, Prince of Orange – from 1689 King William III of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The Briennes came to England with William’s Glorious Revolution of 1688. A trusted servant in the royal household, Simon was appointed Keeper of the Wardrobe at Kensington Palace in 1689, an office he and Maria sold a decade later for £1550 plus a cask of the best Burgundy wine. Soon thereafter they moved back to The Hague, still supervising the hazardous postal routes. The Briennes’ trunk, which is plastered with several wax seals and waterproofed with seal skin, is a unique artifact in itself, but the contents it preserves are truly extraordinary – around 2600 letters in French, Spanish, Latin, Italian, Dutch and English, as well as the official paperwork of an early modern postmaster. As a repository of materials from across Europe the trunk confronts researchers with a variety of paper, matching enclosures, seals, postal marks, folds, and hands that demand particular scrutiny. The letters thus offer an extremely rare opportunity to scholars of early modern history, material culture, paper, and postal systems.