In 1609, John Florio asked the Venetian ambassador Giustinian to send him a book that became the source of many English court masques.
With the accession of James I in 1604, John Florio was appointed as Groom of the Privy Chamber, living at court, and holding a prestigious position at the centre of power. He became reader in Italian to Queen Anne of Denmark and her private secretary. Tuscan ambassador Ottaviano Lotti, in 1611, pointed out Florio’s important position at court and his close relationship with the Queen:
“[…] Florio, who is with the Queen all day long teaching her the Italian language and hearing her conversation on all subjects and who writes all her most confidential letters….”
Yates, F., John Florio, the life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, Cambridge University Press, 1932, pp. 250-51
Lotti was one among many emissaries visiting the English court to try to negotiate marriage matches with the Royal children. His mission was the marriage between Prince Henry and Catherine de’ Medici, sister of Grand Duke Cosimo II, who succeeded his father in 1609. While Prince Henry’s opposition to any Catholic match is well known, the possibility of marriage to the sister of Cosimo II, the rich Grand Duke of Tuscany, stirred the heir to the throne to order his treasurer, Sir Charles Cornwallis, to compile a specific case against the possibility of an alliance with the sister of Cosimo II1.
Although there were many tentative marriage discussions at the time, the possibility of a large dowry and useful political connections ensured both the English monarch and Prince Henry took the Tuscan match seriously. However, Lotti’s mission was unsuccessful, above all due to the great obstacle to surpass: overcoming the intransigence of Rome which demanded freedom for all the Catholics of the kingdom, whereas the English court could only offer a freedom limited to the person of the princess and her retinue. No final agreement was ever reached but there were other practices that were promoted, in both France and Savoy. France especially was a great danger for the Italian ambassador: there were rumours of a double marriage between Princess Elizabeth with the Dauphin and the Prince of Wales with a French princess. Who had spread this gossip to Lotti was John Florio himself2. As Lotti stated in a letter, the Anglo-Italian once said to the Princess:
“<<Madame, I shall see Your Royal Highness made a Queen one day.>> and the Princess promised him if that came to pass a large gift, and added, <<Whoever thinks that I will marry a Prince who is not absolute is mistaken>>”
Yates, John Florio, cit., p. 251
Miss Yates remarked how Lotti’s letters throw a “flood of light upon Florio’s position with the Queen, which turns to have been much more important than has hitherto been guessed. It also shows that he knew how to make use of his ears3.”
All the ambassadors who wanted to arrange a marriage between their country and England, had to deal with Florio before they could hope for an audience with the Queen. While attending about Charle’s matrimonial prospects, Lotti had some difficulty at receiving Queen Anne at Greenwich, and obtained it through Florio:
“I gained over Florio by standing him a dinner and by presenting him with a tobacco-pipe, things which they use….”Ibidem
Florio’s diplomatic career gave him major influence at court, both for political and social terms. Another dispatch written by Lotti shows another important task Florio had as Groom of the Privy Chamber: to interview and select musicians, often Italian, who were seeking an introduction at court. Lotti himself in 1606 asked Florio to assist with his influence a musician, who wishes to obtain employment; they arranged a supper-party with the idea of inducing Florio to introduce the musician and his lyre at court. This shows not only another accomplishments Florio added in his career, but also another talent: his musical competence. This scenario allow us to imagine close relationship and significant encounters between Florio and various great patrons, writers, and statesmen, whereas, the letters cited above begin to suggest that these encounters were only “highlights” in a career involving a large number of lower-level contacts4, including collaborations in the court masques.
Of Italian cultural import, the court masques were primarily associated with weddings during the Elizabethan period, but during the period of James I, they became a huge innovation at court, a complex artistic form which possessed the potential for making both cultural and political statements. They were a form of state theatre, which is described by Clifford Geertz as:
“meta-physical theatre […] designed to express a view of the ultimate nature of reality and, at the same time, to shape the existing conditions of life to be consonant with that reality; that is, theatre to present an ontology and, by presenting it, to make it happen—make it actual.”
Courtney, T., Politics and Culture at the Jacobean Court: The Role of Queen Anna of Denmark, Quidditas, 2008.
The contemporary audience of the masques would have been varied: it would have included members of the English gentry and peerage, courtiers, ambassadors, and visiting foreigners of rank and title. Through John Florio, these figures would have sought an audience with the Queen at one of her palaces, or would have attended a banquet, an official ceremony, court masque, or semipublic meal that she either held, or was present5. In this context, Queen Anne was an important patron of the Jacobean theatre through her participation in, and popularisation of, the court masque, and John Florio a key figure both with the ambassadors and the arrangement of the court entertainments. Foreign ambassadors saw these invitations to the Queen’s masques as special marks of favour shown to them by the monarchy, and all the leading nobles and ambassadors expected to be among the guests and vied for invitations. A French ambassador bristled for a period of several weeks when the Spanish ambassador was invited to a masque and he was not6. On January 27 1605, ambassador Molino wrote to the Doge that he assisted to a masque “which was very beautiful and sumptuous7”. Two weeks earlier, Ottaviano Lotti, on January 10, commented on on the Queen’s masque that was performed on the Twelfth Night:
“With much more magnificence and rarer invention than the other [Susan De Vere’s wedding]. Also it was staged in a larger room which was most adorned, quite apart from the assembly of so many of the nobility, which made a lovely sight.”
Barroll, L., Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography, 2001, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 103.
As Groom of the Privy Chamber, Florio took part in the production of the court masques in which Queen Anne herself took part six times8, working with Inigo Jones, Ben Jonson and his longtime friendSamuel Daniel. The development of revels in the English court had its most important contribution by Italy and France. But one particular Italian event brought the attention to the English court masques: in October 1608, a marriage was celebrated in Florence between the Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici, Prince of Tuscany, with Maria Maddalena, Archduchess of Austria, cousin of the reigning Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, with extraordinary pomp and splendour. The court celebrated Maria Maddalena’s arrival with an unprecedented series of events, including a play with lavish musical intermedi, a mock naval battle on the Arno River, and a horse ballet (balletto a cavallo) in the Piazza Santa Croce. This horse ballet, performed October 27, 1608, and entitled Ballo e giostra de’ venti, marked the first instance of a genre that would prove popular in Florentine pageantry for much of the century9. In the general history of the revels, this ceremony is perhaps less important than the Mantuan festival, but its influence on the English masque was very much greater10:
“On Sunday night, October 19th, there was a great nuptial banquet in the Palazzo Vecchio. […] On Monday calcio was played in the Piazza of Santa Croce. Wednesday evening was spent in dancing, enlivened by spettacoli di musica, a kind of performance which came into fashion about this time and was sometimes known as a veglia or “vigil”. This particular veglia was called Notte d’Amore, and the words were composed by Francesco Cini. A scene was arranged at one end of the dancing-place, and at intervals the ordinary ballroom dancing was interrupted by the sudden fall of a curtain, and a masque-like performance began, the actors and dancers mingling with the spectators. The performance was divided into four acts or vigils. The subject was simply a glorification of the passing moment. The burden of the songs was that Night had yielded her sceptre to Love. This piece had a deep influence on certain English masques.”Ibidem
In that period, a new aesthetic intent upon ravishing the senses was sweeping Europe and, with the Jones-Jonson masques, had finally made its way to England. The object became, as Jonson phrased it, “to surprise with delight”. This desire led to the creation of new stage technologies that could produce visual panoply and striking effects11.
There are two concrete evidences that prove Florio was able to receive these precious informations about the Italian revels and the Florentine wedding: the first is given by Gargano, who in his book about the life of Italian ambassadors in England during the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, titled Scapigliatura Italiana a Londra ai tempi di Elisabetta e Giacomo I, dedicated more than fifty pages to Ottaviano Lotti and his years in London, describing the important role of Florio not just as diplomatic intermediary between the two countries, but also a man who was constantly updated about gossips concerning marriages, politics, and secrets both in England and Italy, precious informations that were later staged in court masques and plays. When the pompous marriage of the Medici occurred in Florence, Ottaviano Lotti brought a report to Florio about the festivities occurred during the wedding. He also adds that the Tuscan ambassador:
“did his best to employ the favour and virtue of the Lord Giulio Romano, and maintained a constant relationship with Giovanni Florio to whom he had occasion to recommend some of his protégés, and spread the taste for new Florentine music”.
Gargano, cit., Scapigliatura, p. 92.
The “taste” for new Florentine music, employing the favour and virtue of Giulio Romano, were all informations given to John Florio, who made brilliant use of them at court. It is not fortuitous that only a couple of months later this occasion, Ben Jonson was able to act The Masques of Queens, certainly indebted to certain Italian intermedia which were inserted into the Giudizio di Paridi, a pastoral comedy composed by Michel Agnolo Buonarotti and staged by Giulio Parigi during the Medici wedding in October 1608:
“The first intermedio represented a wonderful translucent palace, on the top of which stood the Goddess of Fame displaying to the princely pair (i.e. the Grand Duke of Tuscany and his bride) a great company of their illustrious forebears, who sang a madrigal promising a like succession to the royal spouses. Then the door of the palace opened and the heroes entered in order to soar from thence to the heavenly glory that they had deserved. The palace then disappeared, and Fame remaining in the air began to rise up and was hidden in the clouds, and, as she soared, she sang how those who had shone on earth by exalted deeds should go with her to heaven, where she would transform them into eternal stars.”
Welsford, The Court Masque, cit., p. 186.
It has been pointed out how the strong resemblance between the two can hardly be accidental12. Gary Schimdgall, in Shakespeare and the Courtly aesthetic, suggests that the six interludes of the Medici wedding recur in “countless” English masques13. The much later Vision of Delight (1617) by Jonson was also deeply influenced by the Notte D’Amore, a series of musical spectacles or “vigils” which were performed during the Florentine festivities of 1608 at a ball held in the Palazzo Vecchio. The general idea of his Vision is similar to that of the Notte D’amore:
“In both pieces Night is invoked, Phantasms are summoned to perform grotesque dances, and Hour appeares, great wonder is expressed at all he glories of the time, which are felt to be due, in the case of the Florentine spectacle, to the presence of an assembly of such noble lovers, in the case of the English amsque, to the presence of King James, and finally in both pieces Aurora ppears, the audience is dispersed and dismissed cheerfully to the day’s work. In both pieces the chorus is sung by personifications of the more cheerful emotions. The nonsense talked by Ben Jonson’s Phantasy may have a slightly sarcastic reference o the queer unfinished dances of the monstrous Phantasms in the Notte d’Amore, and his poetical epilogue was probably suggested by the dramatic business of the last vigil.”
Welsford, cit., p. 202.
The great influence of Italian revels in English masques can be explained also thanks to Florio’s close connection with the ambassador Lotti and his report of the Tuscan wedding. But there’s another letter that proves Florio’s interest in this important event: it’s a letter that has never been published before by any Florio’s scholar. It’s dated 1609, one year after the Medici wedding and Lotti’s report. This time, the letter was written by the ambassador Giorgio Giustinian, who succeeded ambassador Molin on 18th March 1605, and after a short interruption in 1607, he was placed again on 16th August 1608. One year later, on October 1609, he sent a letter to Florio from Venice:
“I know very well that I have been a long time after my arrival in Venice without writing to you, which is not why I would like you to believe that I have lost the memory of you and above all the many favours I have received from you.”
PRO, SP 99/5/330.
Giustinian also alludes to a list of items that Florio has requested he should send:
“[…] two mirrors, which will be led ashore, to avoid the danger of them breaking. I had them loaded on a ship. I send you those seeds you wanted with the note of the way and criterion by which they should be sown, also the best Teriale’s and Mithridia’s jars made here (in Venice). And the book of the solemn wedding celebrated by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, which is all that has been seen and noticed in his marriage. These things will be delivered to you by the Most Illustrious Ser Giovanni Antonio Morosi.”Ibidem
The book about the wedding of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, which Florio asked the ambassador Giustinian to send him from Venice is: Descrizione delle feste fatte nelle reali nozze de’ Serenissimi principi di Toscana d. Cosimo de’ Medici, e Maria Maddalena arcidvchessa d’Avstria. Published in 1608, the book contains all the informations regarding the great wedding celebrated in October. This book is also listed in Florio’s 1611 edition of Queen’s Anna New World of Words, in the list of books read for the compiling of his dictionary.
Michael Wyatt noted that Florio owned the quarto edition14 that also contained the following works: Ballo e giostra de’ venti nelle nozze del serenissimo principe e della sereniss. principessa di Toscana arciduchessa d’Austria by Lorenzo Franceschini, Notte d’Amore di Francesco Cini, L’argonautica di Francesco Cini rappresentata in Aarno, I cavalieri senesi a valorosi e cortesi professori d’arme. What is of great significance concerning Florio’s request is the proof of Florio’s active role as collaborator in court masques and plays. The desire to have detailed informations about the Medici wedding and revels, both by Lotti in 1608 and one year later, with a book sent from Venice, shows Florio’s interest in bringing Italian taste in English masques.
His influence upon certain plays during the Jacobean period was already pointed out before by professor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies Carol Chillington Rutter, who in her essay, Hear the ambassadors!: Marking Shakespeare’s Venice connection, underlines how the roles of some characters in Anthony and Cleopatra, and the Bard’s knowledge of diplomatic partnership and the roles of Italian and English ambassadors like Scaramelli15 and agents like Wotton in both Venice and London could occur only through John Florio16. Michael J. Redmond, in Shakespeare’s Romantic Italy: Novelistic, Theatrical, and Cultural Transactions in the Comedies, highlighted how the controversial negotiations to find a bride for Henry among the ruling families of the Italian dukedoms of Savoy and Tuscany played an important role for The Tempest, and how the long term diplomatic collaboration gave the Tuscan ambassadors unique access to the English court, a connection between the play and the court that can be explained only through the role of John Florio.
It has already been suggested that the Anglo-Italian collaborated with Ben Jonson for Volpone; their partnership is strengthened by the influence he had on Jonson’s court-masques, confirming their friendship was a constant, long-lasting and fruitful collaboration. It is not by chance that Jonson dedicated to Florio a copy of Volpone, defining him his “loving father, worthy friend” and the “Ayde of his Muses17.” Now there’s a further connection between Florio and the Jacobean dramatists.
The new way of arranging sumptuously court entertainments, primarily connected with political relationships, was firstly introduced by Queen Anne, and Inigo Jones’s collaboration with Ben Jonson, one of the era’s greatest authors was a spectacular success. John Florio, as Anne’s first and most important confidant and Jonson’s friend and collaborator, assured it by refashioning Italian revels for the English court, and playing a central role with both Italian ambassadors and English dramatists.
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How to cite this entry: “Iannaccone Marianna, John Florio, Italian ambassadors, & the wedding of Cosimo II and Maria Maddalena, URL: https://www.resolutejohnflorio.com/2020/11/03/florio-cosimo/”
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- Redmond, M., J., The Tempest as Italianate disguised Duke play, p. 222, in Italian Culture in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries: Rewriting, Remaking, Refashioning, ed. M. Marrapodi, Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007
- Gargano, G. S., Scapigliatura Italiana a Londra sotto Elisabetta e Giacomo I, Firenze, Battistelli editore, 1923, p. 64
- Boutcher, W., A French dexterity, & an Italian Confidence, New documents on John Florio, Learned Strangers and Protestant Humanist Study of Modern languages in Renaissance England from c. 1547 to c. 1625, p. 75, in Reformation, Volume II, Tyndale Society, 1997
- R. Malcolm Smuts, Art and the Material Culture of Majesty in Early Stuart England, in Smuts, The Stuart Court and Europe: Essays in Politics and Political Culture, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p 93
- Courtney, Politics, cit.,p. 3
- Anderson, R., James VI & I and the Foreign Diplomats to the Court of St. James: 1603 – 1625, p. 179
- The six masques presented by the Queen are, in chronological order and with the inclusive dates for the relevant Christmas holiday season: The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses (1603-04); The Masque of Blackness (1604-05), The Masque of Beauty (1607-08), The Masque of Queens (1608-09); Tethys’ Festival (June 1610); and Love Freed from Ignorance and Folly (1610-11), Bevington, D., Holbrook, P., The Politics of the Stuart Court Masque, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 142
- Harness, K. A. (2014) Pageantry, pp 316-17, in T. Shephard, & A. Leonard (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Music and Visual Culture (pp. 313-320). Taylor and Francis
- Welsford, E., The Court Masque: A Study in the Relationship between Poetry and the Revels, Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 113
- Schmidgall, G., Shakespeare and the courtly aesthetic, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981, p. 140
- Ivi, p. 187
- Schmidgall, Shakespeare, cit., p. 139
- Wyatt, M., La biblioteca in volgare di John Florio. Una bibliografia annotata, Bruniana & Campanelliana, vol 9, n.2, 2003, p. 403-434
- Florio and Scaramelli relationship is documented through the following letters: SP 99/2/183, 1603 Aug. 31/Sept. 10, SP 99/2/157, 1603 Apr. 5/15, SP 99/2/184, 1603 Sept. 5
- Rutter, C., C., ‘Hear the Ambassadors!’: Marking Shakespeare’s Venice Connection, Shakespeare Survey 66, (2013), 265-86
- British Library, C.12.e.17