Category Archives: Monarchy

Biography Books Conversation Italy London Monarchy Shakespeare

To talke in the darke

Today’s post is on the life of John Florio (1553-1625), Italian language teacher and contemporary of Shakespeare.

John’s father, Michael, was a former Franciscan monk, who escaped the Inquisition and fled to England during the reign of Edward VI. In 1550, Michael began preaching at a newly-formed Italian Protestant church in London, but after falling out of favour with other members of the church, he turned to teaching Italian in order to support his family. Two of his more famous students included Henry Herbert, second earl of Pembroke, and Lady Jane Grey.

In 1554, the Catholic Mary Tudor ascended the throne, and Michael, like many foreign exiles, was forced to leave England. He and his family settled in Soglio, Switzerland, near the Italian border. At the age of ten, John was sent to study under the Italian refugee Vergerio, a former bishop, but when his father died, he returned to Soglio, and by 1576 John Florio was back in England.

In London, John turned his hand to teaching Italian, and in 1578 he published his first handbook, Florio his Firste Fruites, which he dedicated to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. First Fruites is comprised of forty-four chapters of typical conversations and interactions, and a guide to Italian grammar.


Page from Florio’s First Fruites (1578). Right click to open a large image in a new tab.
Around the time he published his First Fruites, Florio moved to Oxford, where he taught Italian at the university and became friends with the poet Samuel Daniel. He married Daniel’s sister in 1580 and they baptized their first child, Joane, in Oxford in 1585. Their second child, Edward, was born in 1588, and another, Elizabeth, in 1589. During his time in Oxford, Florio published A shorte and briefe narration of the two navigations and discoveries to the northweast partes called Newe Fraunce (1580), an English  translation of Ramusio’s Italian version of the work by Jacques Cartier. 

In 1583 Florio and his family returned to London, and for two years he was employed by the French embassy as a tutor to the daughter of the French ambassador. During this time it is believed he also worked as a spy for Francis Walsingham, a common activity, and one undertaken by many literary men, including Christopher Marlowe. Florio was also occupied translating newsletters from Italy, which he published in one pamphlet, A letter lately written from Rome, by an Italian gentleman to a freende of his in Lyons in Fraunce (1585).

In 1591 Florio published a second language book entitled Florios Second Frutes, which contained 6000 Italian proverbs in the appended Gardine of Recreation; the largest list of proverbs to be published in the 16th century.

Second Frutes (1591)

  Proverbs from Second Frutes 

Second Frutes was aimed at the upper classes, and contains a wealth of fascinating conversations surrounding daily life, such as visiting the theatre, playing tennis, and attending dinner parties. Interest in languages and all things Italian was at its height in England at this time, and as his biographer notes, ‘Florio offered the Elizabethans a vehicle for discovering Italy, its language, and its Renaissance culture without necessarily travelling to the continent.’ 

In 1598, Florio published the first edition of a Worlde of Wordes, or Most Copius, and Exact Dictionarie in English and Italian. According to the titles he lists at the beginning of the book, he consulted seventy-two works by 16th century writers, to provide over 44,000 entries in English and Italian. But his most famous work was published in 1603; a translation of Montaigne’s Essais, entitled The Essayes, or, Morall, Politike and Militarie Discourses. By this point he had severable well-connected patrons including Lady Elizabeth Grey, Lady Penelope Rich and Lady Mary Neville. This translation of Montaigne was a source of inspiration for Walter Raleigh, Ben Jonson, John Webster and William Shakespeare.  

Florio’s star was in the ascendant, and in 1604 he was appointed groom of the privy chamber, and reader in Italian, and as private secretary to Queen Anne. He tutored the royal family in Italian and French, and revised his dictionary, which he republished in 1611 as Queen Anna’s New World of Words. This new edition included almost 70,000 entries, and covers such subjects as history, astrology, philosophy and medicine. This edition also included an engraved portrait of Florio, which can be seen above.

In 1617, Florio remarried a woman named Rose Spicer, and when the queen died in 1619, he lost his place at court. Later that year he and his wife were living in poverty in Fulham. Here he worked on a third edition of his dictionary. In October 1625, Florio died of plague, and his wife followed him to the grave a year later. Their daughter Aurelia went on to marry the surgeon James Molins and they had at least nine children.

Florio and Shakespeare were contemporaries and almost certainly knew each other. Shakespeare demonstrates familiarity with Florio’s work in Love’s Labour’s Lost, and in The Tempest, in which he includes a passage from Florio’s translation of Montaigne (2.1). At least twelve plays feature Italy or Italian names. Some theorists have speculated that Shakespeare himself was an Italian, and others that Shakespeare was indeed Florio; the theory going that John’s father Michael was born in Messina to Giovanni Florio and Guglielma Crollalanza (Shakes-pear in English). That he fled to England and assumed the identity of a dead English cousin, his son John then inheriting the real surname Shakespeare.

The Tempest, First Folio (A4r)

Like all authorship theories, there is little evidence to support such claims, and Shakespeare and Florio probably knew each other through the intimate and tight-knit world of the court and London publishers.

John Florio was the leading language teacher of the early 17th Century. His knowledge of Italian Renaissance literature and his elegant writing contributed, according to his biographer, ‘to the regeneration of English humanism in the latter part of the sixteenth century and to its consolidation at the beginning of the seventeenth.’

From a modern perspective, Florio’s work, particularly the two Frutes, provides charming and revealing evidence of every day life and interaction in 17th Century London, which makes a rich contribution to our understanding of the world of Shakespeare.

You can read some of Florio’s entertaining conversations here

Source: Desmond O Connor, DNB

  © 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Monarchy Poetry

Poetical Exercises

This sonnet is a rare example of the poetry written by King James I (1566 -1625)


From Poetical Exercises.

THE azur’d vaulte, the crystall circles bright,
The gleaming fyrie torches powdred there,
The changing round, the shynie beamie light,
The sad and bearded fyres, the monsters faire;
The prodiges appearing in the aire,
The rearding thunders, and the blustering windes,
The fowles in hew, in shape, in nature raire,
The prettie notes that wing’d musiciens finds;
In earth the sau’rie flowres, the mettal’d minds,
The wholesome hearbes, the hautie pleasant trees,
The syluer streames, the beasts of sundrie kinds;
The bounded waves, and fishes of the seas:
All these for teaching man the Lord did frame,
To do his will whose glorie shines in thame.

Death Execution Monarchy

An example of terror

Today’s fragments come from both an account of the murder of Henry IV of France in Paris in 1610, and from an account of the terrible execution which subsequently met his assassin.  The torture of Ravaillac is described in graphic detail and shouldn’t be read by anyone squeamish, or about to eat lunch.

Henry King of France and Navarre, beeing at Paris about three of the clocke in the after noone, intended to goe to his Arsenall: tooke his Caroch, and as a Prince which lived without feare or suspition of his people, passed through the City, accompanied with fewe of his Nobilitie; without taking for his better assurance, either Archers, or any of his usuall Gard.  But mischiefe, or rather our sinnes procured, that an accursed and execrable assassin named Francis Ravaillac, borne in Angouleme, approached his person, not farre from S.Innocents; where seeing his Majesties Caroche stayed by a Cart, which met and stopped their passage, taking opportunity, assaulted with most hellish fury this good King, with a long knife, made of purpose; with which hee gave him two wounds in the left side, the first was given nigh the shoulder, which entered not farre, but onely rased the skinne: the second was mortall, the blowe entering betwixt the first and sixt rib, cut asunder the veine leading to the heart; and the wound was so deepe, that it reached into the Cava Vena, which was pierced with the point of the knife. The Prince finding himself wounded to death, lost upon the instant his speech, by reason of the aboundance of bloud, which issued out of his mouth, therefore they turned the caroch to the Louv’re, where he was no sooner arrived but hee rendred his soule into the hands of Almighty God, testifying with his eyes and hands lifted up to heaven, that hee died a true Christian and good Catholique.’

Upon Friday 25. of May, Francois Raviallac was brought out of the prison for the palace with a lighted Torch in one hand, and the knife (wherewith he killed the King) chained to the other hand, to openly be seene.  After this he was placed standing upright in a dung-cart, and so from thence conducted to the Capitall church in Paris, and after this to the place of execution, a spatious streete about the middle of Paris, where there was builded a very substantial scaffold. This here following was the manner of his death: an example of terror made knowne to the world to convert all bloody-minded Traytors from the like enterprise.

The hand with the knife chained to it and halfe the arme was put into a flaming furnace, wherein the knife, his right hande, and halfe the arme was in a most terrible manner consumed. After this, with Tongues and Iron Pincers, made extreme hot in the furnace, the Executioners pinched and seared his breasts, arms, thighs and calves and other fleshy partes, cutting out Collopes of flesh and burning them before his face. They poured scalding Oyle, Pitch, and Brimstone onto his wounds. They put upon his navel a rundle of clay with a hole in the middle and into the same hole they poured moulten lead till he cryed out with most horrible roares. Then they caused foure strong horses to be brought to teare his body in pieces and to separate his limbs into four quarters. But so strong was his flesh and joints that of a long time these four horses could not dismember him. At last they were constrained to cut the flesh under his armes and thighes with a sharp razor by which meanes his body was at last torn to pieces. The rage of the people grew so violent that they snatched the dismembered carcasse out of the executioners hands. Some beate it, others cut it in pieces with knives, until there was nothing left but bones, which were brought to the place of execution and there burned to cinders. The ashes wereof were scattered into the wind, as being thought unworthie of the earths buriall.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved


Execution Monarchy

Drawn upon the Fatal Hurdle

These fragments from 1660 come from the account of the execution of the nine men found guilty of the regicide of Charles 1 in 1649.

Maj. Gen. Harrison was drawn upon a Hurdle from Newgate to the Round, or railed Place neer Charing Crosse, where a Gibbet was set, upon which he was Hanged. Many of his acquaintance did seem to triumph to see him die so Confidently; whiles numbers of true Christians did grieve in earnest to see him die so impenitently. We have been told, that when he took his leave of his wife, he comforted her, and told her that he would come again in three days; but we hear nothing as yet of his Resurrection. When he was half hanged, he was cut down and quartered, his bowels burned, and his head severed from his body to be disposed at his Majesties pleasure.

John Carew who being condemned on Saturday, was on Monday, Octob. 15. drawn upon the Hurdle to Execution some hours before his departure out of the Dungeon of Newgate, was heard in his prayer (which he spake loud enough to show either his blind zeal, or bold Rebellion) to expresse these words. Take the Scepter out of the hands of earthly Kings, and rout their Armies. One thing is observable, that this Traytor, who had so red a hand in the taking away the life of the King, did contribute also to the taking away of the life of his own Brother, who some years before was Executed on Tower-hill, for endeavouring to assist the Cause of the King.

On Tuseday October 16. Mr Cooke was drawed on a Hurdle from Newgate to Charing Crosse, to suffer the pains of Death for his Execrable Treason; he shewed much contrition of spirit, and taking notice that Hugh Peters was there and to be Executed next after, he heartily wished that he might be reprieved, being as he conceived, not prepared to Dye. He came to the Ladder unwillingly, and by degrees was drawn up higher, and higher. Certainly he had many Executioners within him; he leaned upon the Ladder being unwilling to part from it, but being turned off, the spectators gave a great shout, as they did when his Head was cut off, and held up a loft upon the point of a Spear. The very Souldiers themselves whom heretofore he did animate to slaughter, and a thorough Execution of their Enemies were now ashamed of him, and upon the point of their Spears shewed that guilty head which made them guilty of so much blood.

On Wednesday Octob. 17. Tho. Scot, Greg. Clement, Adrian Scroop, and John Iones,  were drawn on severall hurdles to the aforesasd place of Charing Crosse. Mr. Scot did seeme to have wept abundantly, for his eyes were Red with penitence; but comming to the place of Execution, he seemed to take new Courage, and for the same cause to dye with the same confidence as heretofore hath been practised and prescribed by the Jesuites of Rome. Gregory Clement,  seemed to expresse much sorrow and much repentance, acknowledging that his Judges had done nothing but according to the Law, and that he most justly suffered both by God and Man.

Adrian Scroop, dyed full of the confession of his enormous fault, and desired the prayers of all good people. He prayed to God to forgive his Accusers.

Col. John Jones, all along as he was upon the Sledge desired the prayers of all beheld him; being come to the place of execution, he confessed that if he were in his Majesties condition he should do no lesse then his Majesty did. Dying he prayed for his Majesty, and the happinesse of his Kingdome.

On Friday Octob. 19. Col. Hacker heretofore of Horse, and Col. Axtell of Foot were drawn upon the Fatall Hurdle from Newgate to Tyburn, Col. Hacker did speak but little, that which he said was to excuse himself, and to lay open the errour of his Judgement, he had a paper in his hand (intended as it seems to speak for him, weakly declaring that he was an Officer in the Army, in which too peremtorily he endeavoured to discharge his Trust.

Col. Axtell said that he was drawn to this War very unwillingly, First in the time of the Earl of Essex, and afterward under the command of the L. Fairfax, under both which Authority he was a Commissionated Officer, yet notwithstanding he did nothing of himself, but was advised to what he did by a Minister, who told him it was the cause of God, and upon which account he endeavoured to doe his work. Col. Hacker was only Hanged, but Col. Axtell being cut down was Quartered.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

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