When he became tutor of Henry Wriothesley, John Florio took part in the Danvers Long drama, backing Henry’s friends in their efforts to escape.

“…One Florio, an Italian, said he ‘would teach him to meddle with his fellow’ with many other threatening words…”

One of the most accepted date when John Florio entered the Third Earl of Southampton’s service is 1589-1591 1, when Henry Wriothesley got his Master Art at St. John’s College in Cambridge and was enrolled at the Gray’s Inn, introduced by his guardian William Cecil.

In that period, Florio moved to Titchfield Abbey, country seat of the young Earl, tutoring him in Italian language and Italian studies. One cause célèbre, though, unveils a far different, more confidential and intriguing role: it’s the Danvers-Long drama, an incident which involved two feuding families, a scuffle among servants, earlier violence, insults, and a quarrel escalated into a murder.

Two of Southampton’s especial intimates2, the Danvers brothers, Sir Charles and Sir Henry, were sons of magistrate Sir John Danvers. Probably born in 1571, Charles was a Wiltshire man, courtier, and former MP. In 1593 he imported “some two hundred books” from Venice, including “a copy of Petrarch poems along with a commentary…and a treatise on Dante’s Inferno, though the vast majority of the books are military, historical or geographical 3.” 

In his 1598 dictionary, A World of Words, John Florio added Osservationi sopra il Petrarca di Francesco Alunno in the list of the books he read for the compiling of his magnus-opera, and whilst Dante’s Inferno is only mentioned in his 1611 augmented edition, in the first dictionary there are already many references to the great Italian poet, here are some examples: 

Baratta: a fight or battell as Dante doth use it.

Panae: hath been used by Dante for limetwigs.

Giuggiola: A fruit of Apotecharies called Iuiuba. Also I iudge it, used by Dante.

Introque: in, further in,within, used by Dante.

Putti occhi: greedie eies, used by Dante so.

Quoto: hath been used by Dante for iudement.

Sie: as Sia, Dante hath used it for si, yea, yesse, so.

Stea: used by Dante for Stia, let him stand.

Testeso: used of Dante for Teste.

Travaglie: used by Dante as Travaglio.

Florio, J., A World of Words, 1598.

Such detailed knowledge of Dante suggests Florio was already well acquainted with his works in 1598. Living and working at Titchfield, amongst his personal books, he could also make use of Southampton’s library, which might have included Italian books borrowed from his friend Charles.

danvers long feud
Henry Danvers, Earl of Danby in a portrait of the 1630s by Anthony van Dyck.

The youngest Danvers brother, Henry, was born on 28th June 1573, so that he was less than four months older than Southampton. He became the page of Sir Philip Sidney, and accompanied him to the Low Countries, and was probably present at the battle of Zutphen in 1586, where Sidney lost his life. Subsequently, he served the Earl of Essex and was knighted by him for his services in the field; so there was a double bond of union between him and the young Earl. In between the Danvers family and the Longs, Southampton’s neighbours near Titchfield, there existed a bitter feud, but the hostility reached a violent climax early in 1594.

Danvers Long Feud: “The quarrel is between our masters and us their men”

The tragedy was first initiated not by the gentlemen, but by the servants, first of the Long, then of the Danvers. In the first months of 1594, sir John Danvers convicted a servant of Sir Walter Long of two robberies, a murder of one of Sir John’s men and the injury of another. After Sir Walter rescued the servant, Sir John put the master himself in Fleet Prison. But upon Sir Walter’s release, a series of brawls erupted; one colorful and quite impressive account of the story comes from Lady Elizabeth Danvers, mother of the two brothers. Noted for her beauty and Italian birth, Elisazabeth was “prodigious parts for a woman4.” In his Brief Lives, Aubrey asserts:

“I have heard my father’s mother say that she had Chaucer at her fingers’ ends. A great polititian; great witt and spirit, but revengefull 5”. 

She admitted that the animosity between the two families had become unendurable, with the Danvers suffering such insults as “having beer thrown in the face of the principal officer of the said Sir John Danvers [her late husband],” with the beer-throwers saying, “in derision they had now dubbed [the officer] a knight also6.” 

She also stated, in a letter to Lord Burghley, that Sir Walter’s brother Henry wrote abusive letters to his son Charles, informing him that “wheresoever he mett him he would untie his pointes and whippe his etc. with a rodd, calling him asse, puppie, foole & boye….How the  beginning of all this quarrel was the prosecuting of justice against thieves, harboured and maintained by the Longs, all the country knows7.”

Later, the violence involved the three hotheaded young aristocrats, who on a Friday night of October 4th decided to settle the matter in a duel. As recounted by their mother, Sir Charles Danvers was challenged by Henry Long, who gained an advantage and had his arm raised to kill, whereupon Sir Henry Danvers intervened to save his brother and killed Long “accidentally” with a dagger. 

But from the report of a coroner’s jury and the confession of several witnesses questioned after the murder, the case involved several knights, servants, captains and horses, and suggests that Henry Long’s death was not accidental, but carefully planned by the Danvers with the help of their friend Henry Wriothesley and his troupe, amongst them, John Florio.

A document titled A lamentable discourse taken out of Sundrie examinations concerning the willful escape of Charles and Sir Henrie Danvers, Knights, and their followers, after the murder committed inWilteshir upon Henrie Longe, gent. in theLansdowne Manuscripts, confirms that Henry Danvers “rode at Titchfield four or five days before the murder committed8.” During an examination made of six people between November 1594 and January 1595, one Anthony Swaine confessed that the day before the murder, a boat came on shore at Calshot Castle about 4 in the afternoon, “which was on Itchen Ferry, out of which came four of five persons, two of them, Henry and Charles Danvers and Mr. Dymock, then arrived another boat with 10 or 11 people but he knew none of them9.”

Furthermore, the report of a coroner’s jury corrected some details about the murder: the encounter actually took place in an Inn nearby Cosham where Henry Long and his brother Walter were eating with friends, and the Danvers brothers advanced “with their followers to the number of 17 or 18 persons in a most riotous manner appointed for that foul fact10.” Sir Charles Danvers, after striking Long, turned to leave, but found the door locked; Long then, drew his sword on Sir Charles, who was “dangerously wounded in seven several places” and to save his brother, Sir Henry shot Long. Thus it was a bullet, not a dagger, as the mother had thought, that caused death. 

The day after the murder, the body of Henry Long was examined in front of twelve people. The report confirmed that:

“Discharged in and upon the said H. Long a certain engine called the dagge charged with powder and bullet of lead, which H.D. had in his right hand; and inflict a mortal wound upon the upper part of the body of Henry Long under the left breast of which wound he instantly died. And that after the felony they all fled.”

Sir Edward’s Coke Reports, Folio 1671, Part V, p. 121.

On the same day, the hue and cry out against the Danvers reached Titchfield. They were accompanied to Calshot Castle at the mouth of Southampton Roads, then back to Whitley Lodge between 8 and 9’ o clock the following morning, where Thomas Dymock, Southampton’s bailiff, resided. 

One Anthony Johnson, the second witness interrogated, revealed that there was some horses exchange from Whitley Lodge to Titchfield that day. During this period of flight and hiding, servants of both the Danvers and Southampton households carried messages, looked after the horses and the meals, and concealed the evidence after the party had left. Thomas Dredge, a stable-boy of Titchfield, attendant in the Earl’s stable, confessed that Henry’s cook helped them make dinner, while Swaine stated that “they supped in the Deputy’s chamber, but the knights were very sad.” 

The Danvers stayed at Whitley Lodge from Saturday October 5th until Tuesday 8th; on Sunday the 6th, Henry Wriothesley celebrated his birthday at Titchfield in the middle of another quarrel, this time played by Thomas Dredge, and Humphrey Drewell, Southampton’s barber. While Henry was blowing out twenty one candles, his servants brought two shirts to be washed at Tichtfield from Whitley Lodge, and one of them was bloody. Dredge saw a bloodied velvet saddle that he recognized as the Danvers’, so he said to Drewell that Mr Dymmock’s men, who brought the horses from Whitley Lodge to Titchfield on Saturday after the murder, told him that Henry Danvers was at Whitley and there was some quarrel amongst them because one of them was hurt and bloody. The barber answered that Sir Henry had been a hunting and had killed a doe and that was the cause of the blood, whereupon Drewell “sware deeply by God’s wounds and charged him upon pain of his life, not to speak any more of it, for that it was his lord’s will and pleasure that the said Sir Henry Danvers should be there at Whitley Lodge11.”

The next day, Southampton himself came to Whitley Lodge on Monday night, supped with the Danvers brothers, spent the night, and departed with them two hours before day next morning. 

Hampshire map by John Norden, 1595, engraved by William Hole in 1607. 
N. 1: Titchfield Abbey;  2: Itchen Ferry;  3: Calshot Castle; 4: Whitley Lodge; 5: Cosham.

Danvers Long feud: John Florio’s role

In the middle of this fracas, John Florio behaved “as if he had been a longtime Southamptonite12” On Wednesday night, the 9th October, Lawrence Grose, the sheriff of the town of Southampton, being at Hamble about his own affairs, was made notice of the whole account by one Fry, the constable there, who gave him the names of the company suspected of the murder; Grose, then, decided to do further investigations. 

But the news quickly reached Titchfield: another confession by Roger Fynch, porter of Calshot Castle has his role of bringing a letter, sent by his master on Friday the 11th at 12 o’ clock, to warn the Knights and their followers to hasten away from the Castle. The circumstances about the way he warned the Danvers are quite picturesque:

“[…] he was very unwilling to do so, so at about 2 in the afternoon he drank two pots of beer and one Chadd’s house, and all the way he felt his heart was heavy and tormented and wept most part of the way to think he should e the messenger to so evil a purpose as he was commanded.”

Calendar of the manuscripts, cit., p. 87.

Swaine confessed that “they departed on Friday 11th at 4 in the afternoon with a boat of one Gilbert, a Scottishman, one Mr. Payne, a servant of Henry, told to Gilbert that the Danvers brothers had to depart.” While a team secured the Danvers and hastened their departure, John Florio prevented Grose to do any further investigation. The next day, on Saturday night, the following scene happened:

“Whereupon the said Grose, passing over Itching Ferry with his wife the Saturday following, one Florio an Italian, and one Humphrey Drewell, the Earl of Southampton’s servant, being the said passage-boat, threatened to cast him, the said Grose, overboard; and said “they would teach him to meddle with his fellow” with many other threatening words.”

Other special notes upon sundry examinations concerning the said cause, in A lamentable discourse, cit.

In this report, Florio’s name is misspelled as “Floria”, likewise in the document The names of principal men servants, followers, and attendant upon the Earl of Southampton not yet examined, but very necessary they should be, being discovered by the confessions of the parties already examined, in which there are 12 people that should be interrogated. Number seven on the list, there’s the same John “Floria”, right after Drewell:

6. Humprey Drewell, one of his followers, that threatened Grose, the Sheriff of Southampton (who gave notice unto the Mayor of the same town for the apprehending of them), to cast him, the said Grose, overboard at Itching Ferry.

7. Signor Floria, an Italian, that did the like. 

There is no sign that Southampton, for instance, or John Florio, were ever interrogated. And while some of both the Danvers and Long servants were hanged after this feud, thanks to the help of Southampton and his loyal household, Charles and Henry escaped to France.

According to Lady Danvers, grief over his sons’ exiled killed their father, Sir John. The proposal is weakened by the statement in Dictionary of National Biography (entry for Henry Danvers) that Sir John died on December 16, 1593, nine months prior to the Long murder13. Lady Danvers, after her husband’s death, soon married sir Edmund Carey, the Queen’s kinsman; Aubrey suggests that it was to gain court support for her efforts to win pardons for her sons14. Regardless of the reason, Henry Long’s murder continued to be investigated. On July, 15, 1596, Lady Danvers wrote to Cecil for their protection. Lord Burghley was very well aware of the affair concerning the Danvers brothers and his ward Henry15, and despite the relationship between Southampton and Cecil had already turned sour by 1594, mostly due to Henry’s reluctance to marry his granddaughter Elizabeth, he seemed to be constantly worried about the young Earl and always kept an eye on him. 

This incident emphasises that a feud between important families was a contemporary English phenomenon as well as something traditionally and typically Italian16. It is possible Florio was among  those unrecognised servants who brought the horses from Titchfield to Whitley Lodge, or amid the 10 or 11 people who accompanied the Danvers brothers at Calshot Castle the day before the murder. Undoubtedly, for such a tough and risky job as that of threatening a government official, Southampton made sure to send a bold, unswerving man of nerve. Far from being a flattering page of his career, this case shows Florio’s true personality, and unfolds the intimate nature of his relationship with the young Earl.

This method of working among his patrons was not new. In reality, his role was never confined merely to language teaching, but he frequently took part in different activities in order to be as useful as possible. In this way, he was able to build a trustworthy, unbreakable bond with them, making his position in their household of key importance. The first signs of this approach can be traced back when he worked at the French Embassy from 1583 to 1585 for the ambassador Michel De Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissièr. Florio was employed as tutor of Italian and Latin to Castelnau’s seven years old daughter Catherine Marie.

But the documents and letters of that period reveal that he frequently accompanied the French ambassador to his audiences to the Queen Elizabeth I at court, that he also became Castelnau’s personal secretary and assistant, writing letters for him, visiting aristocrats to send them messages on behalf of the ambassador, and getting intimate with the London society, both aristocratic and literary. Ultimately, he also became spy for Francis Walsingham, helping him decipher the letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots, and her supporters, including Babington, sent via beer keg supplied by a brewer, assuring her execution in 1587.

One testimony of his ability to manage multiple responsibilities at once is the reference Latin letter signed by Castelnau at his departure in 1585 and written by Florio in both secretary and Italian hand, in which the French ambassador underlines that “Iohannes Florius” devoted himself mainly to the tuition on his daughter “in the interpretation of tongues, and other residual honorific tasks, 17” a reference letter to gain future employments among aristocratic circles. When Castelnau departed, there are several dispatches which attest he remained in good relationship with Florio, making sure he was his “good friend” and praying him to “write at every opportunity18.”

This habit was followed in the same manner when he became “tutor” of Henry Wriothesley, living at Titchfield with him, lecturing him in Italian studies, working as secretary, writing letters for him, and getting involved in private families scuffles to help his patron’s friends. 

This incident confirms, once again, the “doubling” life of John Florio, a self-made man who was able to “create a nationality-straddling persona for himself which was unique at the time19”:

“It is one of the most striking aspects of Florio’s public personality that he always seems to bring forth the English and Italian sides of himself with equal pride, placing particular emphasis on whichever aspect is most appropriate at a given moment. It was, perhaps, this flexibility of identity that allowed him to serve the Catholic ambassadors Castelnau and Chateauneuf while remaining Protestant; to befriend the controversial and pantheistic Bruno without compromising his own religious beliefs; to instruct and move among the aristocracy without ever gaining true entry into their ranks; and to champion the Italian language with native authority without ever allowing himself or his pupils to forget that he had been born on English soil 20.”

The Danvers Long feud unveils a shade of Florio’s personality which has been rarely addressed, the hint that his career as tutor was the single, small fragment of a much bigger, intriguing picture.



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  1. First suggested by Clara Longworth De Chambrun in her biography Giovanni Florio, un apôtre de la renaissance en Angleterre a l’époque de Shakespeare, Paris: Payot, 1921, p. 63, later confirmed by Frances Yates in John Florio, The life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, Cambridge University Press, 1934, p. 126; The Oxford guide to literary Britain & Ireland byDorothy Eagle asserts that the date is 1589-1591, Oxford University Press, 2008,p. 89.
  2. Rowse, A.L., in Shakespeare the Elizabethan, Putnam, 1977, goes further by asserting that the Earl of Southampton had a homosexual relationship with Sir Henry Danvers and “perhaps also with the Earl of Rutland.” (p. 51) Although there is no real evidence that could confirm Rowse’s speculations, one document implies Wriothesley’s homosexuality: it’s an informer’s letter sent to Cecil after the collapse of the Essex rebellion, in which the young Earl is portrayed on intimate terms with one Captain Piers Edmonds, an officer in Essex’s army: “[…] the earle sowthamton would cole and huge [embrace and hug] him in his armes and play wantonly with him.” Cecil Papers, 83, 62.
  3. Akrigg, G.P.V., Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1968, pg. 41.
  4. Aubrey, J., Brief Lives, ed. A. Clark, Volume I, 1898, p. 78.
  5. Ibidem
  6. Public Records Office, State Papers, 12/219/78.
  7. Stopes, C.C., The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s Patron, Cambridge University Press, 1922, p. 81.
  8. There are two copies of the same document. The original is Lansdowne MS 827/6 folio 25. A duplicate: MS 830/13 f. 109.
  9. Calendar of the manuscripts of the Most Honourable the Marquess of Salisbury preserved at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, Volume V, p. 84.
  10. A Lamentable discourse, Lansdowne MS 827/6 folio 25.
  11. Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House: Volume 5, 1594-1595, ed. R A Roberts (London, 1894), British History Online
  12. Giroux, R., The book known as Q: a consideration of Shakespeare’s sonnets, New York, Atheneum, 1982, p. 115.
  13. Evett, D., “Clubs, Bills, and Partisans”: Retainer violence and Male bonding, in Notes, Discourses of Service in Shakespeare’s England, Palgrave Macmillan US, 2005, p. 233.
  14. Ibidem
  15. Acres, W., Letters of Lord Burghley to Sir Robert Cecil, 1593–8, Volume LIII, Cambridge University Press, 2017, Letter n. 42.
  16. Shakespeare, William, The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Edited by Brian Gibbons, London: Methuen, 1980, p. 32.
  17. The original letter written in Latin: “[…]nobilis magister Iohannes Florius per biennium quo in nostro servitio, et familiaritate versatus est præsertim in nostre filiæ Katherinæ Mariæ institutione linguarum interpretatione, caeterisque honorificis administrationibus.” Yates, F., John Florio, The life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, Cambridge University Press, 1934, p. 62.
  18. Ivi, p. 70-73.
  19. Kover, T., John Florio, Identity Construction, and the Presentation of Self in Elizabethan England, M.A. in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Durham University, September 2011, p. 11. 
  20. Ivi, p. 31
Giovanni Florio, known as John Florio, is recognised as the most important humanist in Renaissance's England.

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