The days of handwritten letters may be behind us, but there is still a bounty of information we can learn from historical letters. The following collection of handwritten letters serves as a moving portrait of the times that shaped our current life. There is a lot to be learned from what has now transformed from handwritten letters to historical documents.
1. Letter to Anne Boleyn From Henry VIII
Even centuries ago, powerful men fell prey to the schemes of beautiful women. While still married to Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII wrote of his undying dedication to Anne Boleyn. Unhappy with the fact that Catherine of Aragon had been unable to produce a son and heir, King Henry VIII took to the bed of the cunning Anne Boleyn. Her embrace did not disappoint the avid king. In one of his historical letters, he wrote that he made arrangements for Anne to lodge in London, where he could, er, access her in a more convenient manner. He signed the missive, “written with the hand of him who wishes he were yours.”
2. Young Girl’s Letter to Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln had more than his fair share of opponents during his lifetime. But he captured the heart and dedication of at least one young girl, who wrote to the future President in her own hand. Historical letters like this one show how Abraham Lincoln came across to the general public and how his rise to power was not so surprising after all. The girl, Grace Bedell, wrote that she dearly hoped that Lincoln would one day be elected as President. She promised to try to get her four older brothers to vote for him. In a darling way, she also urged Lincoln to grow whiskers, in order to fill out what she described as his “thin face.”
3. Private Secretary Eliot Crawshay-Williams to Winston Churchill
When Winston Churchill became England’s Prime Minister in mid 1940, he was encouraged by all sides to negotiate with Hitler. Pleading that Churchill had the unique chance to end World War II, even Churchill’s own private secretary, Eliot Crawshay-Williams, asked Churchill to make a bargain with Germany. If Churchill had followed the wishes of Eliot Crawshay-Williams, the entire course of history would be entirely different. Thankfully, this letter, as well as the other historical letters written to Churchill, simply serve as a reminder of how tenuous world peace is at any given moment.
4. Charles Darwin to Botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker
Considering how much Darwin’s theories have shaped our understanding of evolution, these letters, written in his own hand, have special significance. Reading his handwritten letters gives us clear insight into his thinking process as well as his process of scientific method. In his letter to friend and botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, Darwin wrote of his increasing questioning of the then-established belief that creatures were immutable. This letter demonstrates the moment that Darwin conceived his idea that creatures could change into other forms.
5. Martin Luther King to Clergymen in Alabama
Martin Luther King didn’t just stand around giving impassioned speeches. He worked ardently for human rights, even in extenuating circumstances, including his own incarceration. While sitting in a jail cell awaiting judgement, Martin Luther King wrote a handwritten letter to clergymen in Alabama. The letter was in response to their own damning condemnation of his actions involving protests and sit-ins. Denounced by religious leaders, Martin Luther King penned an 11-page, handwritten letter that defended his actions and requested an open-minded questioning of the status quo regarding race equality.