New documents in the Hawthornden manuscripts show that John Florio was known among his contemporaries by the name of “Johannes”.
Resolute Johannes F.
His real name was Giovanni, but he called himself John. He was born in London, but his father was Italian. He defined himself “Italian tongue”, but “English at heart,” hinting at his duplicity and go-between personality. All his works are a product of his formation and identity, a negotiation between two countries and two languages. His activities always involved in-between spaces, and were extremely various: from personal tutor to private secretary for his pupils, from legal representative to spy and agent for ambassadors, from groom of the privy chamber and Queen’s private secretary to responsible for selecting musicians at court.
Culturally, John Florio felt most comfortable with the Italian tradition, but religiously and politically, he felt most certainly at easy with the Protestant England. It is not hard to believe, then, how difficult it was for Giovanni/John to reconcile these different worlds into one, which without any doubt led him, sometimes, to an unstable identity.
When he published his first work, First Fruits, in 1578, he signed himself as “Giovanni Florio” in the Italian Epistle Dedicatorie to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, while in the English letter that followed, he preferred the unspecified “I.F.” In the Italian letter to the reader, he became “G.F.” and in the English one, again “I.F.” At the same time, his name doesn’t appear in the cover of the book, he’s simply “Florio”, and this is exactly the same way his friends and pupils, like Stephen Gosson and the Leicester’s Men, refer to him in the various commendatory verses that precede the text.
He preferred to sign his less-known, but pioneering works, A letter lately written from Rome (1585) , and Perpetuall and natural prognostications of the change of weather Gathered out of diuers ancient & late writers, and placed in order for the common good of all men (1598), as I.F., but a change of pace was done with this second work, Second Fruits, published in 1591. While in the title he was still “Florio”, with, again, no hint of his name on the cover of the book, the epistle dedicatory is signed as “I.F.”, and the letter to the reader with the famous combative tone, Resolute I.F.
Apart from his works, which shows that he preferred to be recognised simply as “Florio”, with his name changing from Giovanni to John, in his inner circle Florio was known by the name of Johannes.
JOHN FLORIO AS JOHANNES AT THE FRENCH EMBASSY
When he worked at the French embassy in London from 1583 to 1585, John Florio worked both as secretary and legal representative to the French ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, and as tutor to his daughter, Katherine Marie.
When Castelnau left the embassy, he signed a reference letter for Florio (in double copy) on September 28, 1585, in which it is stated that “Johannes Florius”, worked “prudently, honestly and faithfully,” dedicated “in the education of our daughter Caterina Maria, the interpretation of languages, and other residual honorific tasks” and “honourable employments1“, without further remuneration.
This letter, written in Latin by Florio himself with the approval and subscription of the French ambassador, was meant to circulate among the aristocratic and noble circles, to seek highly placed job with an aristocrat. And to do so, Florio made clear that he would reciprocate with the activity of educator, translator and other residual activities, including unpaid services.
This is how, he was able, six years later, to become tutor and close friend of the young, rich, and beautiful Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, accompanying him at theatre, writing his private letters, and getting involved in the Earl’s private affairs, such as the Danvers-Long feud. Florio dedicated to Henry his A World of Words in 1598, signing it, again, with the pen name Resolute John Florio.
JOHN FLORIO IN THE HAWTHORNDEN MANUSCRIPTS
New documents in the Hawthornden manuscripts show that the name Johannes mentioned in the 1585 letter is not casual, and even when he became Groom of the Privy chamber in 1604, and private secretary to Queen Anna of Denmark, Florio was known among his contemporaries by the name of Johannes.
The Hawthornden manuscripts are a complex object, including 15 volumes of manuscript papers in total. Most of them collect the manuscript production of William Drummond of Hawthornden, Scottish poet attached to the court of Queen Anna of Denmark between 1590 and 1612. The original papers also contain manuscripts of William Fowler, secretary to Queen Anna.
In 2020, Allison L. Steenson, researcher in British literature at the University of Padua, published The Hawthornden Manuscripts of William Fowler and the Jacobean Court 1603–1612, in which she brilliantly explored unedited material representative of Fowler’s ephemeral and occasional production.
The manuscripts also contain many references of the people at court. There’s a short, multi-lingual composite piece for Anna of Denmark, a text for Lucy Countess of Bedford, epitaphs of James Stewart and George Wharton. It also contains the names of James Hay, Robert Cecil, Mary Middlemore and Elizabeth Norris, of the Venetian ambassadors Correr and Gustinian, of Mary Queen of Scots and the Earl of Gowrie.
Florio’s hand is also present in the manuscripts 2 and he is portrayed by Steenson as a possible London acquaintance of Fowler, along with Edward Dymoke and Samuel Daniel.
Moreover, it seems that Florio’s name is one of the few “literary Juggernauts” mentioned in close contact with Queen Anna’s establishment. This denotes, in my opinion, his notoriety in the courtly circle, where, as documented in the Hawthornden manuscripts, he was known as Johannes Florio.
I was able to trace the original documents mentioned in Steenson’s book held at National Library of Scotland 3, and indeed, in all these pages of the Hawthorden manuscripts in which Florio is mentioned, he is referred by William Fowler as Johannes.
JOHANNES FLORIO IN THE HAWTHORNDEN MANUSCRIPTS
Document Hw 2063, folio 180r, is a page half-empty, in which Florio’s name is written as Joanne Florio with a short Latin quote below it 4 .
Folio 191verso contains different hands. Florio is again mentioned as Johanne Florio, his name closer to that of Venetian ambassador Giorgio Giustinian, and the number twenty, possibly a date. Close to him there are also the names of Elizabeth Norris and Mary Middlemore, evidence the close connection with Anna’s court circle 5.
In the 191recto, there are several hands and names written, symbols and numbers. The name of Mary Stuart as “Maria Stuarda” is written in Italian hand, along with that of the Venetian ambassador MarcAntonio Correr, and the name, again, of John Florio as Johannes Florio. Next to Florio’s latin name, a date: July 4, 1608. This time, the writer did several anagrams of Johannes Florio. 6.
A further confirmation of the fact that in both literary and private circles John Florio was known by the Latin form of his name, is given by the Court Exchequer Register, in which it is recorded that, on 31st December 1606, “a cup and cover of silver for gilt plate” was given as a gift to “Master Floreus” for the baptism of his grandchild:
FLOREUS, Master – plate given to, at the christening of his grandchild, 301.Issues of the Exchequer; being payments made out of His Majesty’s revenue during the reign of King James I. Extracted from the original rolls belonging to the ancient Pell office, in the custody of the Right Honourable Sir John Newport, bart. by Frederick Devon, p. 390.
These new documents show, that indeed Florio was a popular figure at court, and mainly known as Johannes, from such an early date as 1583, until his late years as Groom of the privy chamber at court.
Which version of his name Florio preferred: John, Giovanni or Johannes?
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JOHN OR GIOVANNI FLORIO? JOHANNES FLORIUS! by Marianna Iannaccone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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- Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, 1585 – 1586
- Petrina, Alessandra, Walter Scott of Buccleuch, Italian poet?, in Renaissance Studies, vol. 24, no. 5, 2010, pp. 671–693, p. 679
- Precisely, Shelfmark/reference number: Ms.2063, Pages f. 180r; f. 191recto & verso
- Possibly, “En ni solo flora ???”
- Steenson, L., Allison, The Hawthornden Manuscripts of William Fowler and the Jacobean Court 1603–1612, Taylor & Francis, 2020.
- I tried to decipher some of them. Possibly “non folia herois”, “filio sano honor” are some of them