GROOM OF THE PRIVY CHAMBER
- ¶ JOHN FLORIO AT COURT
- ¶ JOHN FLORIO AT COURT: DIPLOMATIC AFFAIRS
- ¶ JOHN FLORIO AT COURT: MASQUES & MUSIC
- FLORIO & MUSIC
- COURT MASQUES FOR POLITICAL AIMS
- JOHN FLORIO & MATTHEW GWINNE: THREE SYBILS
- JOHN FLORIO, BEN JONSON & NICHOLAS BRETON
- FLORIO & THOMAS THORPE
- FLORIO IN WILLIAM VAUGHAN’S “GOLDEN FLEECE”
- FLORIO VS HUGH BROUGHTON
- ¶ JOHN FLORIO AT COURT: GRANDFATHER AND SECOND MARRIAGE
¶ JOHN FLORIO AT COURT
With the accession of James I John Florio’s life at court begins a new chapter. His best patrons were now in favour, and Sir Robert Cecil now exercised greater influence than before. Most certainly, he may possible have been instrumental in obtaining John Florio his court appointment. John Florio was now living at court, holding a prestigious position at the centre of power. From 1604 to Anne’s death in 1619 he had a secure income, and his life was on a steadier course. He probably owed his appointment to a number of factors: Robert Cecil’s patronage, the widespread respect for his work, and diplomatic skills acquired at the French Embassy and with his aristocratic students, which allowed him to prosper under politically very different reigns.
JOHN FLORIO AT COURT: QUEEN ANNE
Over the course of the following four hundred years, Queen Anne “has been ignored and even denigrated throughout the twentieth century, often by otherwise reliable historians,” 1. Despite some of them have sadly dismissed her as a lightweight, vain Queen,2 Anne of Denmark, was instead politically astute and very active. Her independence and most importantly, her innovations at court made her a fundamental patron of the arts during the Jacobean age. She used entertainment and court masques for political aims, therefore playing both political and cultural roles:
“The reinstatement of Anne’s importance to English culture and politics is well underway. While the trajectory of Anne’s historical reinstatement began with her involvement in the creation of the Jacobean court masque, for Leeds Barroll the project became one of recovering her widespread cultural and political influence.”Frye, S., Anne of Denmark, cit.
Acknowledging that these features of culture have political ramifications has opened the door for new understandings of the court masques 3 as well as the role of John Florio, Queen’s Anne’s most important confident and collaborator.
JOHN FLORIO AT COURT: GROOM OF THE PRIVY CHAMBER AND PERSONAL SECRETARY TO THE QUEEN
What were John Florio’s duties and his influence with the Queen at court, transpire from various official documents. Firstly, he became reader in Italian to Queen Anne and as one of the grooms of her privy chamber. In a document dated March 1619 there is a list of Queen Anne’s “Grooms of the Privy Chamber” with the length of their service and the amounts of their yearly salary. In this Florio is stated to have served her for fifteen years at a salary of one hundred pounds per annum. This makes 1604 the year in which John Florio began his court service.
FLORIO’S HIGHER SALARY
A groom’s salary was sixty pounds per annum. The higher rate in Florio’s case seems to have been due to his additional functions of reader in Italian and private secretary to the Queen. 4 Further, he wrote her letters and interviewed people for her. In addition to his attendance on the Queen, John Florio was also tutor in Italian and French to Prince Henry at court.
QUEEN’S ANNA LOVE FOR ITALIAN CULTURE
The interest in Italian culture consistently informs Anne’s patronage. This is especially visible not only in her architectural activities, but also in her patronage of John Florio. She gave him a prominent central role at court, both connected with diplomatic political affairs and with entertainment.
FLORIO’S ITALIAN BOOKS
The Queen regularly purchased books from Florio, many of which were in Italian. In 1605, for example, Florio gave the Queen a copy of the Italian Histories by Matteo Bandello and received £6.14s. Furthermore, he gave her two dictionaries, two dialogues in Italian and English, as well as some writing materials. Later, on 22 February 1607, The Queen paid Florio for a sumptuous £4 copy of ‘Italian Bible for her Maiestie’ and for a copy of ‘Plutarches lives in English’. 5 Also, in 1608 Florio purchased a French Plutarch and an English Plutarch for the use of the Queen and her daughter. 6
QUEEN’S ANNE PROFICIENCY IN ITALIAN
Further evidence of Anna’s proficiency in Italian is found in an extant epistle to the Danish diplomat Jonas Charisius, executed in Italian. Another evidence is found in the the Venice ambassadors Foscarini and Correr. They claimed that in response to Christian IV’s gift of the “C4” jewel in June 1611:
“The Queen replied in Italian, by her own hand, wishing him all success, declaring she desired nothing more than to see the increase of his glory and his State.” 7
¶ JOHN FLORIO AT COURT: DIPLOMATIC AFFAIRS
FLORIO & OTTAVIANO LOTTI
From Ottaviano Lotti’s dispatches, the representative of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in London, we know that John Florio had a major and confidential role with the Queen at court:
“…and I do not know if it is by chance that this 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, said to the Pincess, “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.”Ottaviano Lotti, Archivio di Stato, Florence. Archivio Mediceo, 4189.
This throws a flood of light upon Florio’s position with the Queen. It turns out to have been much more important than has hitherto been guessed. It also shows that he knew how to make use of his ears. 8 Lotti was one among many emissaries visiting the English court to try to negotiate marriage matches with the Royal children. And they all had to deal with Florio before they could hope for an audience with the Queen. Lotti also reported that he had some difficulty at receiving the queen at Greenwich. He wanted to attend about Charle’s matrimonial prospects, 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….”Ottaviano Lotti
JOHN FLORIO & NICOLO MOLINO
Writing to the Doge and Senate in 1607, Nicolo Molino, the Venetian ambassador in England, states that the Queen Anne of Denmark:
“likes enjoyment and is very fond of dancing and of fêtes. She is intelligent and prudent; and knows the disorders of government.”
Molin’s summary of the English Queen consort makes a crucial observation: Anna was both culturally active and politically relevant. The relationship between Molino and Florio is stated in a letter dated 1605 Aug. 7/17 9, in which he informs Florio that he sent him some answers that Molino himself later sent in Scotland as ordered by the Queen’s secretary Robert Cecil. Probably Florio’s duty in this case was to translate them, as suggested by Miss Yates. She underlines how in 1607, Florio still worked at the French Embassy. Probably he answered letters addressed to him and translated them.
JOHN FLORIO & SCARAMELLI: DIPLOMATIC PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN LONDON AND VENICE
Florio was also in close contact with Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Secretary to the Signoria. Scaramelli was appointed at the end of December 1602 to commend to her Majesty’s attention about the English piracy in the Mediterranean which had grown so brass-necked. Scaramelli was an agent functioning as legate and orator to make complaint to the Queen. He was a witness of Elizabeth I’s death as well as King James’s coronation. Through his stay in London he sent informations and updates to Italy. Venice knew England by what Scaramelli wrote of England. Three letters in the National Archive (London) dated April and September 1603, testify to Scaramelli’s friendship with Florio. Florio’s relationship with Scaramelli was important as determined the political relationship between Venice and London at the time.
FLORIO & HENRY WOTTON
Another political figure in this contest is Henry Wotton, who was appointed Venetian ambassador in 1604. Wotton sent regularly dispatches in London, disseminating informations to policymakers and, as information leaked into the public domain, to a wide readership, including playwrights.10 Moreover, Wotton’s scribe in Venice was Scaramelli himself. He was appointed as Venetian who knew most at first-hand about England to record England-in-Venice. This diplomatic partnership between London and Venice, the agents/ambassadors Wotton and Scaramelli, had John Florio as the crucial link between the two worlds. 11
JOHN FLORIO & GIUSTINIAN
Zorzi Giustinian was the ambassador of Venice in London from January 1606 to 1608. He personally knew Florio and got in contact with him after his departure. There are several letters that prove Florio’s friendship with Giustinian. One written on October 1609 when he was already back in Venice 12 The second written in July 1608, 13 when the ambassador went to see Pericles at the Globe.
On July, in fact, together with the secretary of Florence Ottaviano Lotti, the French ambassador Antoine de la Broderie, and his wife, Giustinian held a party over the lords’ room over the stage. He paid more than 20 crowns as an entrance fee for himself and his guests. De La Broderie arrived in London on May 6, 1606, and did not leave until 13 November 1618. Due to the plague, the theatres were closed from July to December 1606 and for all of 1607 except for a week in April and late December. The theatres re-opened from April to Mid July 1608. This means the group would have attended the performance only from April to mid July 1608. 14
“To his louing Father, & worthy Freind, Mr John Florio: The ayde of his Muses…”
¶ JOHN FLORIO AT COURT: MASQUES & MUSIC
FLORIO & MUSIC
Another Florio’s tasks at court was to interview and select musicians, often Italian, who were seeking an introduction at court. Ottaviano Lotti, for example, in 1606 asked Florio to assist with his influence a musician, who wishes to obtain employment at court. 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.
Similarly, alongside Inigo Jones, Ben Jonson and his longtime friend Samuel Daniel, Florio took part in the production of the court masques in which Queen Anna herself took part six times. 15 The court masques were an Italian cultural import, primarily associated with weddings during the Elizabethan period. The English masque as court entertainment enacted by nobles was an innovation of Queen Anne:
“Masques were 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.”Politics and Culture at the Jacobean Court: The Role of Queen Anna of Denmark, Quidditas, 2008
FLORIO, THE AMBASSADORS, AND COURT MASQUES
Her contemporary audience 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 Anna at one of her palaces, or would have attended a banquet, an official ceremony, court masque, or semi-public meal that she either held, or was present. 16 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 central figure having an instrumental role both with the ambassadors and the arrangement of the court entertainments. Describing the “splendour of the spectacle” of the Masque of Beauty by Ben Jonson, the ambassador Giustinian stated that:
“It was a miracle… but what beggared all else, and possibly exceeded the public expectation was the wealth of pearls and jewels that adorned the Queen and her ladies, so abundant and splendid that in everybody’s opinion no other court could have displayed such riches. 17
COURT MASQUES FOR POLITICAL AIMS
Foreign ambassadors saw these invitations to the Queen’s masques as special marks of favour shown to them by the monarchy. In one example, a French ambassador bristled for a period of several weeks when the Spanish ambassador was invited to a masque and he was not. 18 As was the case with Anne’s masques, all the leading nobles and ambassadors expected to be among the guests and vied for invitations. On January 27 1605, Molino wrote to the Doge that he assisted to a masque “which was very beautiful and sumptuous” 19 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.” 20
This new way of arranging sumptuously court entertainments, primarily connected with political relationships, were introduced by Queen Anne. And had John Florio, her first and most important confidant, as the go-between who played a central role with both parties.
JOHN FLORIO & MATTHEW GWINNE: THREE SYBILS
In1605 James I and Queen Anne of Denmark visited Oxford. At Magdalen College, John Florio’s longtime friend Matthew Gwinne staged a play with the students of the college. The play, entitled Vertumnus sive annus recurrens, is the story of Three Sibyls. They appear as saluting Banquo who was to be “no King, but the father of many Kings.”
“These sybils now in the name of England and Ireland saluted the King of Scotland as the fulfilment of the old prophecy.”
The three Sybils joined their welcome to Anne, parent, wife, sister, daughter of King, and to the Princes. The King was pleased with the allusion to his ancestor Banquo, and someone present was inspired to carry the idea further. 21
JOHN FLORIO, BEN JONSON & NICHOLAS BRETON
The importance and influence which Florio’s established reputation and his court position gave him are illustrated by the fact that books were now dedicated to him. These dedications reveal that he had some association during these years with Nicholas Breton, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Thorpe. Nicholas Breton dedicated to him A Mad World My Masters (1603) and the dedication is:
“My Verie loving, and approved good friend, the lover of all vertues and labourer in good studies, Signor John Florio, perfect Reader of the Italian language.”Nicholas Breton
Breton seems to owe some debt of gratitude to him for past kindnesses. In fact, he speaks of “your many undeserved kind passages” 22. John Florio’s friendship with Ben Jonson is of great interest and importance. It is well-attested by an inscription written in Ben’s own hand upon the fly-leaf of a copy of Volpone which is now in the British Museum:
“To his louing Father, & worthy Freind, Mr John Florio: The ayde of his Muses. Ben: Jonson seales this testemony of Freindship, & Loue.”
The word “Father” which the dramatist uses in addressing his friend, suggests not only the disparity in their ages. It most importantly implies some suggestion of discipleship, with a more striking tribute by speaking of him as “The ayde of his Muses“. This dedication implies that Florio played a fundamental part in Jonson’s theatre writing which has not been fully investigated. It’s important to understand the modes and forms of this influence, and not give Florio the simple role of a ‘teacher’ who supplied his “Muses” of banal informations about Italian folklore.
FLORIO & THOMAS THORPE
THORPE’S DEDICATION TO FLORIO
Thomas Thorpe, in 1610, published a translation from Epictetus his Manuall. He dedicated this work to Florio, reminding him that he had procured a patron for an earlier work of John Healey’s His apprentises essay, and hoping that he would do the same by this one. In the three existing dedications by Thorpe, other than that to W. H., the first is addressed to Florio, the two others to the Earl of Pembroke, while the other, some years before, is addressed to the editor, Edward Blount. We thus have Thorpe’s evidence that Florio procured him the Pembroke’s patronage. He also did the same for John Healey. Florio secured the patronage of William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke for Healey’s The Discovery of a New World. This work was an extremely free and humour version of the “Latin Mundus Alter ed Idem”, a satire of England.
FLORIO BEHIND I.H.
For F. A. Yates, in some points of Healey’s translation Florio was probably “looking over Healey’s shoulder as he translated”, 23 alluding at the fact that he most likely revised and edited the work. Futhermore, the fact that Healey signed himself as Resolute I. H. suggests that “Resolute” John Florio was writing under the cloak of Healey. 24
FLORIO IN WILLIAM VAUGHAN’S “GOLDEN FLEECE”
A year after Florio’s death, in 1626, his old friend William Vaughan published three volumes of cryptic memoirs about events at the Court of James and Anne. Golden Fleece is an assortment of memoirs from James and Anne’s court, told in a cryptic language. But behind apparently apocryphal yarns, Vaughan recounts real stories and gossips from the period of Florio’s presence at court. He uses for Queen Anna the pseudyonym Princess Thalia while for James I Apollo. When it comes to John Florio however, Vaughan has no problem giving us the real name and a few stories about him.
FLORIO VS HUGH BROUGHTON
Hugh Broughton, who was an English divine and rabbinical scholar, was aspiring at the same position of Groom of the Privy chamber. But Queen Anne chose Florio not only for his writing talent, his diplomatic skills and his fame among the aristocratic students, but also for his specific knowledge of Judaism and the Bible. Jealous of Florio’s prestigious position at court, Broughton tried to make trouble when he discovered Florio had been instrumental in producing some verses that Vaughan defines “a strange morall letany”, which was released during a royal birthday. As a result, Florio had to appear before James I to defend himself from this charge which has been brought against him, having been accused to have descended to a frivolity of tone and matter unsuited to a person of his gravity. Braughton considered himself a superior and more serious scholar to the “Novelist Italian” and resented his appointment:
“Hvgh Broughton, a very learned Diuine, and an admirable Linguist, specially in the Hebrew and Chaldaick tongues, hauing for a long time awaited in Apolloes Court for some place of preferment, and seeing many persons, whom he thought to be farre beneath him in knowledge, or at least, that his penny was as good siluer as theirs, exalted to promotion, grew about this time of the Moone maruellously discontent; and chiefly for that Signior Florio, a new commer into Parnassus, had beene lately promoted to be Deane of the Lady Thaliaes Chappell, a place of honour more fit for a Cabalisticall Rabbine, as him∣selfe was, then for a Nouelist Italian;“
FLORIO PERFORMING SALACIOUS SONNETS AT COURT
For this reason, Broughton hoped to bring John Florio down by revealing his involvement in this poetic production. Florio is described performing salacious and obscene verses during the royal birthday. Vaughan, reports that Florio defended himself by saying:
“It is not unknowne, most illustrious Prince,
both to your matchlesse prudence, and to all discreet Politicks,
that a new broome sweepes cleane,
that euery Seruant at his first entertainement into a great Ladies Court,
must sute his affections to hers, as neere as possibly he can
With conueniency, and study by all meanes of solace to giue her content: in some degree or other.
To this end I inuented this new Letany, knowing that my gracious Mistresse liked pleasant raptures, better then the
graue and austere rules of the Stoicks.”
Florio defended himself by arguing that it is sometimes necessary to temper gravity with brightness to suit the tastes of one’s pupils and patrons. There are several sexual puns that Florio used to make his own “apology”. He, for example, refers to the Queen Anna as “The great lady”. This throws a light upon the level of confidence which Florio had with the aristocracy. After Florio’s defence, Apollo (James I) gave judgement in Florio’s favour. The chapter ends with these words from King James:
There is a time of earnest things to write,
A time to talke of matters small & light,
A time to walk, to run, to ride, or praunce,
A time to sit and laugh, or lead a Daunce.
There is a time for men to fast and pray,
And so a time to sing like Birds in May.
FLORIO & SONNETS
The story does of course beg the question: what volume of verses Florio was responsible of? Vaughan doesn’t give anything away on this question. He refers to the volume of verses as “strange morall letany” during a royal birthday. Florio’s scholar, Miss Yates, suggests that John Florio in 1609 gave to Thomas Thorpe both his translation of Healey’s Discovery of a New World and the collection of Shake-Speares sonnets, which is a proof that he was involved in this production:
“It might be interesting to inquire why Thorpe was so keen on publishing old material in this year. […] Yet in that year Thorpe addressed to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke – via Florio – a translated satire, Healey’s Discovery of the new World, and to a “Mr W.H.” a sonnet-sequence by William Shakespeare.“Yates, F. p. 291
FLORIO EMPLOYED BY WALSINGHAM
According to Vaughan, Florio was also received at court by James I for his past political activities. Also, because he was a partisan of Essex. Indeed in a passage of The Golden Fleece, Vaughan writes that in the mythical court of Apollo:
“Knowing how exemplary and useful the presence of serious personages served to reclayme lewd people (…) appointed John Florio Dean of the Princesse Thaliaes Chapell, as a reward for his care and pains in the apprehension of Marianna. ”
William Vaughan, The Golden Fleece, parte I, D4 – E3.
Princesse Thaliaes is Queen Anne. Marianna is a reference to Mary Stuart and the conspiracy of Babington of 1586. Vaughan describes Florio employed by Walsingham in the Babington’s plot. The principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth established a system whereby Mary’s personal letters were carried in and out of Chartley (her current residence) hidden in beer barrels. Walsingham, also thanks to Florio’s help, as suggested by Vaughan, was able to intercept and decode her correspondence. The relatively simple code used by Mary was quickly deciphered, and translations were provided for Elizabeth. The Babington Plot ultimately resulted in not just the execution of Anthony Babington and his conspirators, but also Mary, Queen of Scots.
¶ JOHN FLORIO AT COURT: GRANDFATHER AND SECOND MARRIAGE
During the years at court Florio became grandfather to children of his daughter Aurelia. She married to James Molins, a renowned physician, and worked by his side as obstetrician. His two grandchildren, born in 1605 and 1606, both received presents from the royal family on the occasion of their christening.
There is no record of the decease of his first wife, Anna Soresollo. But most certainly John Florio lost her during the terrible years of plagues in London between 1592 and 1593. Florio sadly lost all his children, Aurelia was his only surviving daughter.
Florio remarried in 1617, at 65 years old, with Rose Spicer. She nursed him through his last years and to whom, in his will, he refers in terms of tender affection.
The period as Groom of the Privy Chamber and Personal Secretary to the Queen were for Florio happy years. Anne had promised him a pension of £100 a year until death. But as King James’ financial position worsened these Court pensions were never paid. Many loyal old courtiers were abandoned to poverty in the last years of his reign. Despite not being wealthy as he was before, Florio remained attached to all the things that once belonged to the Queen. Even after her death, he never sold them. Florio, in fact, still possessed her presents when he made his will, including her writing desk set with pearls and fitted with silver ink wells and sand box. Precious tokens of affection that he never tempted to give away. A sentimental value for him more important than any other sum of cash.
How to cite this entry:
“Resolute John Florio”, “Groom of the Privy Chamber”, URL= https://www.resolutejohnflorio.com/2019/09/19/groom-of-the-privy-chamber/
This entry was first published on November 13, 2019. It was last modified on November 21, 2019.
- Frye, S., Anne of Denmark and the Historical Contextualisation of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII, in Women and Politics in Early Modern England, 1450-1700, ed. James Daybell (Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004), p. 181
- Frances Yates, for example, in John Florio’s biography describes her as a ‘rather stupid, rather frivolous person.’
- R. Malcolm Smuts, Culture and Power in England, 1585-1685 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), p. 2.
- Yates, F., John Florio, cit., p. 247
- Field, J., Anna of Denmark: A Late Portrait by Paul Van Somer, The British Art Journal, 18, n.2, 2017. p. 6
- TNA: PRO, SC6/JASI/1648.
- Wade, Queen’s Courts, 56; CSPV, vol. 12, 162, no. 250.
- Yates, F., John Florio, cit., p. 251.
- SP 99/2/300
- Rutter, C. C., Hear the ambassadors: marking Shakespeare’s Venice connection, Shakespeare Survey n. 66, 2013.
- TNA, SP 99/5/330
- TNA, SP 99/5/388
- Taylor, G., The Nex Oxford Shakespeare: Authorship Companion, (2017) p. 570
- 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
- R. Malcolm Smuts, Art and the Material Culture of Majesty in Early Stuart England, in Smuts, Stuart Court, p. 93
- Scarisbrick, Anne of Denmark’s Jewellery, p. 229
- Courtney, T., Politics and Culture at the Jacobean Court: The Role of Queen Anna of Denmark, Quidditas, 2008, p. 3
- Molino to the Doge and Senate, 27th January, 1605, CSP Venetian, no. 332, p. 213
- Barroll, L., Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography, 2001, University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 103
- Stoppes, C., The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare’s Patron, p. 296.
- Yates, F. A., John Florio, cit., p. 277
- Ivi, p. 288