GIIIISTINIAN'S FOUR YEARS AT THE COURT OF MEER , THE EIGHTH. *
Tnrsz selections from the correspondence of Sebastian G-iustinian Venetian Ambassador to Henry the Eighth from 1516 to 1519, will have more interest for the historical inquirer than for the general reader. If, as Reynolds affirms, there must be a good deal of commonplace in every great work even of genius, the common must very greatly predominate in letters of business, written indeed by a well-trained diplomatist of ability, but a man of learning rather than of literary skill; especially whet the business itself was not of much historical importance. Sebastian Giustinian, of the noble Venetian family which traces it origin to the Emperor Justinian, was a practised penetrating ratui of the world, to whom much public business and nearly sixty year had given patience, when spirit or temper would have availed hiti nothing or have wrought mischief. At the time when he came to England, the results of the league of Cambrayhad sadly reduced
the Venetian republic not only by loss of territory but of soldiers
and treasure. The republic, was threatening further evils from the ill-will and instability of the Emperor Maximilian, the uncertain result of the contemplated French invasion of Italy by Francis the First, and the enormous expense entailed on the Signory front this condition of affairs. It would not appear that much direct aid was expected from the Kino. of England. The object of Venice was to induce him to keep the peace ; to observe a neutrality during the expedition of Francis into Italy for the recovery of Milan, which the Signory encouraged in the hopes of getting back Brescia and -Verona and as much as possible to prevent assistance from being rendered to Maximilian. The two cities were finally recovered ; a general peace was patched up ; and Charles the Fifth was elected Emperor of Germany before Giustinian took his departure. It can hardly be said that his residence did much to effect these objects. Events were too powerful for mere diplomacy; and neither Henry nor Wolsey was the kind of man to be led from the road, however clever the leader might be. In spite of all the Ambassador could say or do, ducats were sent to Maximilian enabling him to keep up the struggle against France and Venice till funds began to rim low, and Henry to get tired of uselessly parting with his money. Indeed, the Venetian was often put to his wits-end to turn the solicitations of the King and the Cardinal to break with France; in the course of which the Monarch and the Minister did not always stick to the truth in their assertions. The Ambassador, however, managed to keep his temper, under occasionally great provocations, and to preserve the favour of the King and Cardinal, except once when the Doge undesignedly lent himself to oppose Wolsey in a personal object. Giustiman's personal acceptance carried on the routine business and mercantile affairs of the state as successfully as any one probably could have done ; but it did not sway events. The topics of the letters less relate to business actually done than to conversations in which each party sought to make some discovery or gain some advantage by directly persuading or indirectly influencing the other. And the same end was sought in the visits of ceremony or entertainment—" the paying of court," which the Ambassador omitted no opportunity of doing. The main substance of his communications has reference to the arguments or other reasons advanced by either party in conference ; but it is varied by indications of character and descriptions of behaviour. The masks the jousts, and other courtly amusements of the day, are recounted with some fulness, and there are occasional allusions to current events, though scarcely so much as might be expected. Upon the whole, the volumes do not throw so much new light upon the four years of Henry's court and reign as might have been expected. They exhibit what was known already from another point of view, and correct points of detail, rather than make what may be called discoveries. Other selections from the despatches and reports of Venetian envoys contain more personal portraiture and more historical interest than this correspondence of Giustinian ; but they have been made upon a smaller scale, from a greater number of writers—the cream only was taken. The letters do something towards dissipating the romance and mystery attached to the Venetian Government. Giustinian writes without any fear and with perfect freedom ; in fact, there is much less ceremony and compliment than prevailed in this country at a later day, or than prevails even now. Neither is there any appearance of trick or perfidy; though of course the Ambassador puts the best face upon things. Either men employed at the head of affairs are apt to neglect the details of the branches, or the Government of Venice was not so attentive to business as is generally supposed. A modern envoy left without instructions from our Foreign Office could not have fretted more in private than did Giustinian openly for want of information, or even news. This 18
one of many instances.
"-On my presenting myself to his Majesty to pay him my respects, he asked me if 1_ had any letter from your Sublimity. I told hint I had, not received letters, though I wished to speak with his Majesty about matters Of moment ; but, as I perceived the Imperial and Spanish Ambassadors, and other persons, at hand, I said I had determined to delay until another day : whereupon he rejoined, 'You shall have audience when you please ; but we greatlx marvel at your not receiving letters from the Signory, so many event; having chanced and chancing daily.' I apologized for your Excel '. Four Years at the Court of Henry VIIL Selection of Despatches writum by the Venetian Ambassador Sebastian Giustinian, and addressed to the Signory of Venice ; January 12th 1515, to July 16U1 1519. Translated by Rawdon Brown. In two volumes. Published by Smith and Elder.
lency as I beat might, though I fancy that they credit what they please ; and we two Ambassadors then took leave.
"'With regard to this matter, I will not omit giving my opinion ; and your Sublimity must know that, at this present, it is more necessary than ever to cultivate the friendship of King 'Henry, who is so well able to supply your enemies with money, and thus support the war against you, without openly declaring himself. You also perceive that here in London there are embassies from all the greatest princes in Christendom, and all hammer at this anvil—some for money and some for favour ; nor does a week ever elapse without all these Ambassadors receiving missives addressed to his Majesty, indicative of great mutual confidence and good-will, whereas your Signory, which has, perhaps, greater need of his Majesty than any of the others, does not ever write ; and I am thus deficient in the means of negotiating and exerting myself so fitly as I could wish, and as current events so imperiously demand."
The high-handed manner in which Wolsey treated foreign ministers frequently appears, and goes beyond words. He not only stopped the French Ambassador's letters, and opened them, but rated him for the writing. On the Envoy of the Pope he laid violent hands. •
"TO THE MOST EXCELLENT COUNCIL OF TEN.
"London, December 7, 1516.
"Your Highness will now learn, that a few days ago, the Nuncio (Chieregate) was sent for by the Right Reverend Cardinal ; who' when he reached his presence, took, him into a private chamber, where he' laid hands on him, telling him in fierce and rude language, that he chose to know what he had written to the Ring of France, and what intercourse he held with me, as either he was frequently here, (at the Venetian Embassy,) or my son, or the secretary, at his residence, and that he should not quit the spot until he had confessed everything ; and unless he told by fair means, that he would put him to the rack. On this, high words were exchanged by either party ; the Nuncio denying the charges brought against him, but admitting our intimacy, as induced by friendship and a community of literary pursuits. Concerning the King of France, he mentioned what he had written to him, and the reply received, which did not bear upon the present matters : so the Cardinal sent to hiehouse to seize all his papers and ciphers, but found nothing objectionable ; wherefore, at the intercession of the Reverend Bishop of Winchester' he was released, permission being given him to quit the kingdom ; and this he will do, his departure now being merely delayed by the expectation of pecuniary supply. The proceeding is summary, especially against a Papal Nuncio, and has appeared to me worthy the knowledge of your Excellency."
Of the power of Wolsey, and the necessity of paying court to him, the Venetian Ambassador almost goes beyond the usual opinion. Here is a passage.
"Having read these despatches with my wonted respect. I shall abide most religiously by their contents; but must remark that I perceive your Serenity leaves it optional with me, as if it were a doubtful matter, whether I ought to make the communication to Cardinal Wolsey or not. Now the fact is, as I have informed the Signory at least a hundred times, that it is necessary to address oneself to him about everything; and, were it a question of neglecting his Majesty or his Right Reverend Lordship, the least injurious course would be to pass over the former. I shall therefore impart it to both, but first of all to the Cardinal, lest he resent the precedence conceded to his Majesty."
It will be seen by the opening paragraph of this more complete pertrait of the Cardinal, extracted from a digest of the Ambassador's " report " to the Senate on his return to Venice, that Wol
sey went further than "ego et rex mens "—sinking the "rex altogether.
"This Cardinal is the person who rules both the King and the entire kingdom. On the Ambassador's first arrival in England, he used to say to him, 'His Majesty will do so and so' ; subsequently, by degrees, he went forgetting himself; and commenced saying, We shall do so and so' ; at this present he has reached such a pitch that he says' I shall do so and so.'
"He is about forty-six years old, very handsome, learned, extremely eloquent, of vast ability, and indefatigable. He alone transacts the same business as that which occupies all the magistracies, offices, and councils of Venice both civil and criminal; and all state affairs likewise are managed by him, let their nature be what it may. "He is pensive, and has the reputation of being extremely just : he favours the people exceedingly, and especially the poor ; hearing their suits, and seeking to despatch them instantly ; he also makes the lawyers plead gratis for all paupers.
He is in very great repute—seven times more so than if he were Pope. He haa a very fine palace, where one traverses eight rooms before reaching his audience-chamber, and they are all hung with tapestry, which is changed once a week. He always has a sideboard of plate worth 25,000 ducats, wherever he may be; and his silver is estimated at 150,000 ducats. In his own chamber there is always a cupboard with vessels to the amount of 30,000 ducats, this being customary with the English nobility. * * * "Cardinal Wolsey is very anxious for the Signory to send him one hundred Damascene carpets; for which he has asked several times, and expected to receive them, by the last genies. The Ambassador urged the Senate to make this present. as even should the Signory itself not choose to incur the expense, the slightest hint to the London factory would induce that body to take it on themselves ; and this gift might easily settle the affair of the wines of Candia—that is to say, induce the repeal of the duties on sack imported by Venetian subjects. The Ambassador, on his departure, left the business in a fair way, and consigned all the documents concerning it to his successor : but to discuss the matter further, until the Cardinal receives his hundred carpets, would be idle. This present might make him pass a decree in our favour, and, at any rate, it would render the Cardinal friendly to our nation in other matters ; for no one obtains audience from him unless at the third or fourth attempt. As he adopts this fashion with all the lords and barons of England, the Ambassador made light of it, and at length had recourse to the expedient of making an appointment through his secretary, who sometimes went six or seven times to York House before he could speak to the Cardinal.
"It is the custom for the Ambassadors, when they go to the Court, to dine there ; and on his first arrival in England they ate at the Cardinal's table : but now no one is served with the viands of the sort presented to the Cardinal, until after their removal from before him."
Whether the Venetian Ambassadors were, like other mortals, accessible to flattery from crowned heads, or whether the Senate and Council of Ten understood that the great were to be complimented as a matter of course, and made their deductions accordingly, we do not know. Certainly Henry, Francis, and some other very great people, appear more gracious and excellent in the eyes of Ginstinian and his colleagues than they do to posterity. The "report" on Henry the Eighth might have been transmitted to the King himself. The Ambassador, -however, wrote some ten years ere "Gospel light first dawn'd frtim 13n.11en's eyes," and Wolsey fell.
"His Majesty is twenty-nine years old, and extremely handsome ; nature could not have done more for him : he is much handsomer than any other sovereign in Christendom, a great deal handsomer than the King of France ; very fair, and his whole frame admirably proportioned. On hearing that Francis I. wore a beard, he allowed his own to grew ; and as it is reddish, he has now got a beard which looks like geld. H' s is very accomplished; a good musician ; composes well; is a most capital horseman ; a fine jouster ; speaks good French, Latin' and Spanish ; is very religious ; hears three masses daily when he hunts, and sometimes five on other days ; he hears the office every day in the Queen's chamber, that is to say vespers and eompline. He is very fond indeed of hunting, and never takes this diversion without tiring eight or ten horses, which he causes to be stationed beforehand along the line of country he may mean to take, and when one is tired, he mounts another, and before he gets home they are all exhausted. He is extremely fond of tennis' at which game it is the prettiest thing in the world to see him play, his fair skin glowing through a shirt of the finest texture.
"He gambled with the French hostages to the amount occasionally, it is said, of from six to eight thousand ducats in a day.
"He is affable, gracious' harms no one ; does not covet his neighbour's goods, and is satisfied with his own dominions, having often said to the Ambassador, Domino Orator, we want all potentates to content themselves with their own territories ; we are satisfied with this island of mire.'
"He seems extremely desirous of peace."
The " Memo " in the following notice of "BloodyMary " as a baby was a musician, who ostensibly came on a sort of musical adventure, and was introduced by the Ambassador to the Cardinal, and then to the King. The last was greatly pleased with Memo's skill, and permanently retained him. Perhaps the objeot alluded to in the last sentence was that originally aimed at.
"After this conversation, his Majesty caused the Princess his daughter, who is two years old, to be brought into the apartment where we were; whereupon the Right Reverend Cardinal and I, and all the other lords, kissed her hand, pro more ; the greatest marks of honour being paid her universally, more than to the Queen herself. The moment she cast her eyes on the Reverend D. Dionisius Memo, who was there at a little distance, she commenced calling out in English, 'Priest !' and he was obliged to go and play for her ; after which, the King, with the Princesa in hia arms, came to me and said, 'Per Deum isle eat honestiesimus vir et unus earissimus, nullus unquam servivit mihi fidelius et melius illo, seribaris Domino vestro quad habeat ipaum commendatirm: I thanked the King, and told him he would be recommended to your Signory in proportion to the satisfaction which yea might know his Majesty received from him, and that I therefore on my part recommended him to his Majesty. This say 1, most serene Prince, that. I perceive him to be in such favour with the King, that for the future he will prove an excellent instrument in matters appertaining to your Highnese."
These extracts might be extended, but there is enough to indicate the nature of the better parts of the book. It is very ably edited, by a man who has devoted, his time to this species of antiquarian study. An introduction. gives an informing account of the nations/ archives still existing in manuscript at Venice, and of the sources whence these volumes have been drawn. A rather heraldic notice of the family of Giustinian follows, with a narrative of the Embassy's journey to England via Lyons and Paris. Copious foot-notes accompany the letters—furnishingfull information on every questionable point—sometimes, indeed, rather more than was needed, but this is an excess on the right side.