Gifts of Imperfection: Elizabeth i and the Politics of Timepieces

In: Explorations in Renaissance Culture
Miranda Wilson University of Delaware, USA,

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In 1572 Robert Dudley gave to his queen a tiny clock set in a bracelet, an object scholars believe to be the first wristwatch. While Dudley’s gift to Elizabeth i was striking in its innovation, it was not the only timepiece he or those in his circle gave her. Using the New Year’s Day “Gift Rolls,” only recently collected from disparate archives and transcribed from manuscript by Jane Lawson, I establish that Dudley and those associated with him turned to this particular form of gift more often than other Elizabethan courtiers. Using theories of gifting I go on to argue that courtly gift exchanges involving elaborate private clocks and watches allowed Dudley and his circle to suggest their unique usefulness to Elizabeth i by offering her ways to imagine their service and her sovereignty.

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