LOST CHILDREN & LIFE IN LONDON
The personal life of John Florio has been the object of scattered studies these past centuries, which have thrown a new light upon his children, wives, and his ever changing adventurous life throughout England.
The vexed question regarding the name and origins of his mother is, today, still unresolved. John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, based on information given by Florio’s grandson, reported that his parents “flying from the Valtolin (’tis about Piedmont or Savoy) to London for religion: Waldenses. The family is originally of Siena, where the name is to this day.” 1 This would make John Florio’s mother Italian. Miss Yates, on the contrary, supposed that John’s mother was English, basing her assumption on a note written by Simmler in Michelangelo Florio’s Apologia in which he wrote that “it seems she was English and unmarried”. Yates, clarified that:
“In the Simmler collection of manuscripts there is a page of notes in Latin on Michael Angelo’s Apologia […] the writer of these notes adds, “De Uxore, quae Angla fuisse videtur” but it does not appear that he had any other source of information, besides the Apologia” […] On the other hand, she may have been another Italian refugee, as John Aubrey assumes.”Yates, Frances, John Florio, the life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, Cambridge University Press, 1934, pg 14, footnote 2.
Apart from this speculation based on an unreliable annotation, the only document that cites Florio’s mother is a letter addressed to Cecil in which she is described as a woman of the Italian congregation and a servant in Lord Burghley’s house. Without any further clues the most trustworthy account is, undoubtedly, Aubrey’s one, which comes directly from a member of Florio’s family.
Carla Rossi has recently discovered the name of John Florio’s wife: Anne Sore Sollo. 2 There are two documents of their marriage I have consulted: the first is in the parish register of St James Garlickhithe with a good calligraphy in which it is attested that on February 5 1574 “John Florens marries Anne Sore Sollo“. The second document is scarcely readable: her name is “An”, surname “Sore Sello“. The surname is split in two parts, probably because Florio and his wife tried to spell her surname slowly to transcribe it correctly.
There are several options for this surname: Soresello is a valley in Morcote, Switzerland, near Lugano. Florio’s surname was reported as “Florence”, certainly a way to associate him with his foreign origins by the people he worked with. 3 If Anne was from Soresello, that would make her a Swiss. Another suggestion is that her surname is a badly transcribed European surname. In 1571 London hosted “4000 Dutch, 424 Burgundians, 32 Scots, 2 Danish, 138 Italians, 5 Lucchesi, and 5 Venetians.” 4 Following Florio’s first work and his life in the early years of his career, he had a strong association with merchants. There is a dialogue in First Fruits in which he writes to be in love with a woman, daughter to a merchant, who cannot read Italian. Since it is very unlikely that the daughter of a merchant couldn’t read, Florio does not describe an Italian, but a foreign woman. First Fruits was published in 1578 but many dialogues were certainly written years earlier, if he was writing a biographical dialogue – as he often did – it is possible Anne was the daughter of a foreign merchant. 5 The Italian community was one of the smallest in London and he lived near the Huguenot community when he worked as servant and dyer for the Venetian merchant Gaspare Gatti. Therefore, it is possible that his wife was a French or a foreign, and not necessarily Italian.
It has been generally assumed that Anne died of plague during 1592-4 but I consulted most of London parishes registers and I didn’t find her burial certificate. I also looked through the Hampshire parish registers, since in the years 1592-1594 Florio certainly moved to Titchfield in the Southampton household when the plague hit London, as attested in a document dated 1594, 6 but without any successful outcome.
However, the cause of her death may be different: by the way Florio refers to her in his testament, it is clear that they had a happy marriage, and his request to William Herbert to protect Rose Spicer (his second wife) from his enemies could suggest a grimmer alternative:
“Take my poor and dear wife into his protection, & not suffer her to be wrongfully molested by any enemy of mine.”
It is possible that his first wife was “wrongfully molested” by his enemies, which would also explain the reason behind such request to his patron in his last will for his second wife Rose. Regardless of her origins and her death, Florio and Anne had several children.
1574 – 1578, JOHN FLORIO’S FIRST YEARS IN LONDON: MERCHANTS, DYERS AND ST JAMES GARLICKHYTHE.
“Annable” was baptised on April 1, 1576 in St James Garlickhithe. 7 There is a correction made on her name in the first parish register; in the second register her name is transcribed as Annabell with a better and clearer calligraphy, and reported as daughter to “John Florence”.
In this period, when he published his first work, First Fruits (1578), John Florio lived and worked in the dyers street near St James Garlikckhithe, next to his printer Thomas Dawson and near the Royal Exchange, mentioned by Florio in his work.
Georgian View of the Church of St James Garlickhythe, City of London, 1830. After the Great Fire of 1666, the church was rebuilt and the re-opening took place on 10 December 1682. Image Source:www.stjamesgarlickhythe.org/history
In the map below you can see in yellow St. James Garlickhythe in Vintry Ward, west of Dowgate Ward. The ward is named after the Vintners’ Company and the Vintry, used by the merchants of Bordeaux for the transporting and selling of their wines. At the time, Florio lived next to this church.
Gallery of St. James Garlickhythe today, where John Florio baptised his children.
CHEAPSIDE & THE BULL IN
Near St. James Garlickhythe there was Cheapside Street, one of the most important streets in early modern London: it was lined with buildings three, four, and even five stories tall, whose shopfronts were open to the light and set out with attractive displays of luxury commodities. It was the centre of London’s wealth, with many mercers’ and goldsmiths’ shops located there. John Florio mentions Cheapside in a dialogue in First Fruits:
“Wel I go and walk in Cheap to buy something
And what wil you buy?
I will bu a hat, a payre of white Stockens
And I will buye me a payre of Pantofles and Pumpes” – Familiare speache with man or woman, Chapter 3.
In Cheapside there were fountains and statutes placed at intervals down the centre of it, and it was known by contemporaries as “the beauty of London”. The West side was occupied by fine shops, and at the East end of it stood the beautiful gilded Cheapside Cross. It was also renowned for its open-air market, held in the middle of the street, where every kind of commodity, from shoe-laces to parrots could be bought, and for two rival taverns – The Mitre and the Mermaid.
In the map below you can see in yellow Cheapside and in violet St. James Garlickhithe.
In First Fruits, First Chapter, Florio also mentions The Bull Inn:
” Where shal we goe?
To a playe at the Bull, or els to some other place
Doo Comedies like you wel?
Yes sir, on holy dayes” – Englishe Familiare speach, Chapter 1.
The Bull was the second of the four inn playhouses. Plays were staged here from 1575 until 1594. The first notice of the Bull Inn as a place of entertainment dates back to June 7th, 1575, in connection with the performance of a “prize”. The Bull Inn was in Bishopsgate street, where the Queen’s Men had been licensed to play in 1583. The place is quite distant from Florio’s area, but in First Fruits he also mentions other farther areas, so it is very likely that he owned a horse, as some dialogues also focus on his passion and hobby for horses. Florio’s liking for the theatre is pretty obvious, given the dedicatory poems in First Fruits written by Leicester’s Men, his mentions of theatre in the dialogues and his patronage under Robert Dudley.
ANNE & AURELIA
Another daughter named “Ane” was baptised on September 22, 1577 in St James Garlickhithe. 8 The same daughter is also reported in another register with a better calligraphy as Anne Florence.
“Olrale”, the badly transcribed name of Aurelia, was baptised on October 8, 1578 in Saint James Garlickhithe, daughter to “Jhon Florence”.
1580 – 1588: OXFORD, FRENCH EMBASSY, AND LOST YEARS.
In 1580 John Florio moved to Oxford as servant and tutor in Italian to Emmanuel Barnes, later he moved at the French embassy in London from 1583 to 1585 in Butcher Row.
From 1586 to 1591 there are scarce documents on his private life and career, which could be considered his “lost years”. It is certain he was involved in the Babington plot, hired by Francis Walsingham as spy and helping decode the letters Anthony Babington secretly sent to Mary, Queen of Scots, via a beer keg supplied by a brewer. It resulted in her execution in 1587. Later, Florio seems to be vanished, but there is a letter written by Alexander Teregli dated May 26 1587: “Alexander Teregli to his godfather John Florio, in Cork, meeting with William Barnes, the lord mayor’s son. Regrets Florio cannot be with him at Whitsun, is to stay with Cavalier Dimock, Italy, London.” 9 which offers a glimpse of his activities soon after the embassy years. Warren Boutcher, in a depth-analysis of this letter, proved that in 1587 Florio was living and working in the interface between the Italian community in London, his Oxford literary contacts, such as Samuel Daniel, and members of the Italianate, progressive gentry, such as the super rich knight Sir Edward Dymocke.10
1588, NEW RESIDENCE IN SHOE LANE: HOLBORN & ST ANNE BLACKFRIARS
EDWARD & ST ANDREW HOLBORN
The next document concerns the birth of his son Edward in 1588, this time the church is St. Andrew, Holborn. In this period, Florio acquired a residence in Shoe Lane off Fleet Street, running up to Holborn. Edward “son to John Florio” was baptised on June 19 1588 in St. Andrew, Holborn. 11
St. Andrew Holborn was a parish church in Farringdon Without Ward, located on Holborn street between Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane. It is located on the Agas map and is labelled as “S. Andrews.” According to John Stow, there was a grammar school, as well a monument dedicated to Lord Thomas Wriothesley either within or nearby St. Andrew Holborn:
“On the other side, at the very corner, standeth the parish church of St. Andrew, in the which church, or near thereunto, was sometime kept a grammar school, as appeareth in another place by a patent made, as I have shown, for the erection of schools. There be monuments in this church of Thomas Lord Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, buried 1550” 12
The North Prospect of St.Andrews Church in Holborn” engraved by B.Cole, published in Thornton’s History of London, about 1790. Image Source:www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/File:Londonstandrewholborn.jpg
ST. ANN BLACKFRIARS & THEATRE
“Elsabethe” Florio was baptised on June 19 1589 in St Andrew, Holborn. I was able to find the document of her death, never mentioned before: she died in 1592 and was buried on January 22 in St. Anne Blackfriars. Her burial is reported as “Elizabeth daughter to Mr. Florie”. Three lines below, in the same page of the parish register, a servant of the Earl of Southampton was also buried: Walter Bollen.
St. Ann Blackfriars has never been associated with Florio before: it was located near the Blackfriars Theatre (a fact which displeased its congregation) and was destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666. The parish was later united with St Andrew by the Wardrobe in 1670, and two portions of the graveyard, which remained open for burials until 1849, survive.
The first Blackfriars Theatre was built on the site of the Great Hall of Blackfriars Priory, by Richard Farrant in 1576; the second, on the site of the Parliament Hall by James Burbage between 1596-1600, remaining in use until it was closed down by the Puritans in 1642, and then ending up being demolished in 1655.
THE BLACK BEAR
In 1591 John Florio published his second work, Second Fruits, printed for Thomas Woodcock “dwelling at the Black-Beare”.
The Blackbear was a bookshop near Paul’s Churchyard. Edward Blount lived also there, and John Florio published with him A World of Words in 1598 and Queen Anna’s New World of Words in 1611.
John Florio’s new residence in Shoe Lane, Blackfriars, was chosen for his literary activities with the young, beautiful and rich patron Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton. It is certain he began to work for him at least from 1591: in Second Fruits, he mentions to go to theatre with Henry and playing at tennis together. Florio’s residence was within walking distance to Southampton House, the London property, and would have made meetings very easy. Henry’s London house was located in the parish of St. Andrew’s, Holborn, in the same area of Florio’s house.
In this house there was a portrait of Henry’s mother (now at Welbeck Abbey). Despite Henry moved from London to Titchfield in the years the plague hit the city, he settled definitely in London by November 3, 1604. In the same church of Holborn where Florio baptised his children, many members of the Wriothesley family were also baptised.
SHOE LANE & FLEET STREET
Florio’s new residence was in Shoe Lane, off Fleet Street. In the seventeenth century, Shoe Lane housed
sign-writers, designers of broadsheets and a cockpit. The cockpit, a round amphitheatre-like building where the bloodsport of cockfighting took place, was visited by Sir Henry Wotton in 1633. Samuel Pepys records a visit to the same cockpit in 1663. Shortly thereafter, the street was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666.
Fleet Street, named after the River Fleet which now runs underground, has been a centre of printing and publishing from the early 1500s. During several period in the centuries since then, it has been been home to radical pamphleteers and publishers writing incendiary words, exposing injustices and inciting revolt. A number of radical organisations have had their offices and headquarters here.
“The birth of the modern newspaper can be traced to a house that once stood on the eastern bank of the fetid River Fleet in London. ” “The fascinating history of Fleet Street“, Dr Matthew Green, 21 MAY 2018. Telegraph.
It is worth mentioning that in the same area lived Vincentio Saviolo, Italian fencing master who moved there in 1588. We know, from Florio’s dialogue in the 7th Chapter of his Second Fruits, that Saviolo’s fencing school was also in Blackfriars, located “at the sign of the Red Lyon”. There still remains a Red Lion Court today, off Fleet Street and near New Fetters Lane – named after the Red Lion Tavern, destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. George Silver tell reports that Saviolo and Jeronimo held their school of fence “a bowshot” from the Belle Savage tavern, situated in Ludgate Hill. 13
JOHN FLORIO’S LOST SON
I also found another new document about Florio’s family, a male child: his name was John. “John Florie” was baptised on August 21, 1590 at All Hallows, Barking By the Tower, not far from Blackfriars. 14 In the parish register it is reported as “John Florie sonne to John christened”. Given Florio’s surname being extremely rare, it is very likely that this is a document concerning another male child John Florio had. Sadly, his son didn’t have a long life. He died at two years old: on November 9, 1592, the parish register of St. Ann Blackfriars reports that John Floreo “Sonne to Mr. Floreo” was buried, in the same church where Elisabeth was also buried the same year. 15 I noticed that in the parish registers of Blackfriars there are annotations of people who died of plague and Florio’s children are not included in the list.
All Hallows Barking by the Tower is another church, with St Anne Blackfriars, not previously associated with Florio’s family and little John is the only child baptised there.
The church of All Hallows Barking was undamaged in the Great Fire and it has memorials of the Bassano family16 so it is possible that John Florio was associated with members of this community. The Italian musician Antonio Bassano was buried at All Hallows in 1574, and many other members of his family were baptised and buried there. In All Hallows was also buried, in 1583, another Italian parishioner, Hieronimus Benalius, known to be a papist, whose elaborate monument stands in the north aisle. Doctor Benalius (regularly mispelled as Bellario) emigrated in England with the Bassano family and lived in the rear of Antonio’s mansion at Mark Lane, All Hallow Barking, and the monument in the church was most certainly erected by the Bassano family.
It could be of some interest to report that I have found another “Elizabeth Florie”, daughter to “Mr. Florie” who was baptised on January 2, 1602 in St. Anne Blackfriars.17 If this is another daughter Florio had at 49 years old, it would be interesting to inquiry whether she was the daughter of his first wife – that would prove she died much later – or an illegitimate one.
Florio, in fact, married again much later in his life, precisely on September 9, 1617, with Rose Spicer. Florio is transcribed as “John Flores” in the parish register of St James, Clerkenwell, Islington, Middlesex 18
FLORIO IN WILTSHIRE & BRISTOL
I have also found another branch of the Florio family that must be related to the Anglo-Italian: they lived in the area of Somerset and Bristol between late 1590s and 1600s. There’s one Anne Florio who married Edward Jones on July 13, 1591 in the church of All Cannings, Wiltshire. The register is injured by a hole trough the centre, but Anne’s name and surname is written in a clear calligraphy. Much later, on February 24 1626, David Florio baptised his son Thomas Florio in Wiveliscombe, Somerset. In the same year, another John Florio baptised Thomas on June 4 in St Stephen, Bristol.
AURELIA & MOLINS
Aurelia seems to be Florio’s only surviving daughter, or at least, the one whose life and career is well documented.
Her knowledge of Latin gave her expertises on medicine that very few women had at that time, and had a successful career as one of England’s most celebrated midwives, so much that her name was bestowed on girls she had delivered. She was married to James Molins, surgeon who apprenticed to William Clowes, surgeon to Queen Elizabeth I, and it is thought that Clowes introduced him to Aurelia. While working as midwife, Aurelia was also caring for her own 15 children born between 1605 and 1622. She was allowed to have her own armorial bearings on 22 August 1614 (her husband was awarded his on the following day): her bearings were “azure, a heliotrope or issuing from a stalk sprouting out two leaves vert, in chief the sun in splendour”. When Florio died, he gave Aurelia a golden ring that belonged to her mother Anne. Aurelia became also famous when in 1634 she examined ten women who were alleged to be witches. Her first son Edward was born on October 28 1629. He is transcribed as “Edward Malins” son of James “Malins”. Aurelia’s name on the parish register of St. Dunstan in the West is reported as “Ann”, probably due to the difficulty of transcribing her name. The Molins became a renowned family of surgeons: Aurelia’s other son William in 1676 published “Myotomia: or The anatomical administration of all the muscles of an humane body” (Edited by Richard Mead, London: Robert Knaplock, William and John Innys, and Jacob Tonson.) She died a rich widow in London on 12 July 1641.
The document concerning Florio’s death is, still today, absent. It has been generally assumed that he died of the bubonic plague, though it has been never proved with a document. Another unconfirmed hypothesis concerns his burial place. Yates (as all Florio’s scholars) have always suggested that in all likelihood he was buried in a mass grave at Hurlingham Field. Given that it is possible he died of plague, it is important to point out that many Florio’s contemporaries who died of the same disease were not buried in a common grave. John Fletcher (who frequented Fulham) died of plague in August 1625, and was buried on the 29th of that month at St. Saviour, Southwark, without any memorial to mark the spot. Therefore, it is possible that Florio was not really buried in a common grave but actually buried as he wished in the testament, “in decent order”, in a church possibly near Fulham, and I think other substantial and deeper researches must be done on this subject.
From this research I investigated different topics concerning Florio’s family and life in London: the real surname of her wife, her origins and her death; four new documents concerning his children: the death of Elizabeth in St. Anne Blackfrifars, the birth of John in All Hallows, and his death in St. Anne Blackfriars. I also found another daughter born in 1602: Elizabeth. I also found another branch of the Florio family in the Wiltshire area: the marriage of Anne Florio and the baptism of two male children in 1626. Information concerning Florio’s death, instead, should be revised, as it is possible that he is buried somewhere in a church near or around Fulham.
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- Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. A. Clark, I, 254.
- Carla Rossi, Italus ore, Anglus pectore: studi su John Florio. Volume 1, University of Zurich, 2018.
- His father, Michelangelo Florio, defined himself as “Fiorentino”, “Florentine”
- Returns of aliens dwelling in the city and suburbs of London from the reign of Henry VIII to that of James I, Edited by R. E. G. Kirk and Ernest F. Kirk (Aberdeen University Press, 1900-08) xiv.
- Miss Yates also noted that some dialogues in First Fruits were certainly biographical and that Florio may have based that dialogue in which he mentions to have a “broken heart” on a personal experience.
- For the Danvers-Long feud and Florio’s role in the murder, see my research “John Florio and the Danvers Long feud”
- London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P69/JS2/A/001/MS09138
- London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P69/JS2/A/001/MS09138
- SP 46/125/fo163-163d.
- 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, in Reformation, Vol. II, Tyndale Society, 1997, p. 74.
- London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P82/AND/A/001/MS06667/001
- John Stow, A Survay of London. Contayning the Originall, Antiquity, Increase, Moderne estate, and description of that Citie, written in the yeare 1598. by Iohn Stow Citizen of London. It was entered into the Stationers’ Register on 7 July 1598, and printed in quarto by John Windet for John Wolfe, printer to the honourable city of London. This same edition was reprinted the following year, in 1599 (Pollard and Redgrave 369).
- George Silver’s “Brief Instructions Upon My Paradoxes of Defence“, 1599
- London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P69/ALH1/A/01/001
- London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P69/ANN/A/008/MS04510/001
- I thank Adey Grummet at All Hallows for helpful information about the church and suggestions on Florio’s family (personal correspondence)
- London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P69/ANN/A/001/MS04508/001
- London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P76/JS1/004