Venice: February 1644

Pages 68-76

Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 27, 1643-1647. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1926.

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February 1644

Feb. 5.
Senato, Secreta, Dispacci, Inghilterra. Venetian. Archives.
78. Gerolamo Agostini, Venetian Secretary in England, to the Doge and Senate.
The energy of parliament has been occupied these last days and still is with the trial of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which they expect to finish next week. Their object is to refresh the memory of the people about past grievances received from the king through this minister and by irritating them against the late government and the better secure their submission to the present. By such inventions they have no difficulty in justifying and practising any act of tyranny to the invincible ignorance of the people here. With the same object of delighting simple zealots, after the banquet given by the city to parliament, that body had solemnly burned by the common hangman, in a public place, many images of the Madonna and Saints with offices and other Catholic books found in private houses.
The severity of the weather, which still continues, has afforded the armies few opportunities for action. The king sent some companies of horse to surprise Alsberi, but that done they retired to Reading. Alarmed by this Essex has recalled some troops from Waller's army to reinforce his own, and for the same purpose they are making a great press of soldiers in this city to-day.
The town of Gloucester, which occupied the royal forces after the capture of Bristol, without success, and which prevented a decision of this dispute in his Majesty's favour, is now in dire straits, although not besieged, as it is cut off not only from the food of the country, but from the succour coming from here.
Last Monday the parliament at Oxford was opened, about 200 lords and commons attending. The king made a long speech in which he informed them of all his proceedings since the beginning of these affairs, and of the ill treatment received from the rebels of parliament, the title he gives to the parliamentarians of London. He stated that as he had passed an act to summon parliament every three years, the time prescribed had arrived, and circumstances required it to prevent the progress of foreign armies in the kingdom. He asked them to help him with their advice in this affair. Their answer is not yet known, but it is probable that everyone will support the idea, although it is opposed by another act also signed by his Majesty, though through violence, not to dissolve the present parliament without the consent of the two Houses. Accordingly it is hoped here that divisions will arise, but if force can uphold obstinacy in this parliament it may equally unite opinion in the other.
The brother of the Duke of Hamilton has arrived here, having escaped from his guards by a stratagem. He is a prisoner here also, and they will send to Scotland for him to be adjudged by the peers of that nation, in conformity with the agreement between the two countries.
Reports persist of the entry of the Scots into this kingdom, but they are due to the wish rather than the fact, since there is no definite news, but there are signs instead of fresh demands for money. In spite of the misfortune of being disloyally served by his party in that kingdom, the king hopes that the resistance offered will suffice, as the Marquis of Newcastle has sent a large corps to make sure of the hill which dominates Newcastle, while he has his power at York (trattenendosi egli poderoso a Yorch). The border counties have also associated themselves and promise to place every third man at the king's disposal. This is especially due to their natural antipathy to the Scots.
The French ambassador returned from Oxford yesterday evening. He has taken leave of the king, but in spite of this they say he may remain some days to watch the proceedings of the Dutch ambassadors. This does not please parliament, which has lost its confidence in him, although they do not want him to go away utterly offended. Before he came he answered the two letters of the presidents of the Houses, treating them equally, French fashion, without naming the presidents. They did not like this, although the letter was quite modest, thanking them too for the respect shown to his private letters, and apologising for Cressi, because the letters of the Ambassador Gorin had been put in his packet by his wife, without his knowledge. Cressi himself offers the same excuse in his letters to various members of parliament, and announces that in obedience to the commands of his mistress, he is to remain with the title of Agent. This does not please them and might lead to trouble for him personally, and affronts to France, which, apart from its own advantage, shows little inclination to interfere seriously in these affairs. Owing to these suspicions the ports have been closed these last days and many letters stopped, both coming and going. If my information is true mine have escaped, but I am taking every precaution.
The herald and gentleman sent by the Dutch ambassadors to Oxford has returned bringing the king's permission for them to go. This demand, contrary to the practice of the other ambassdors, which points to the fear that they will not be well received, seeing the queen's protest about their departure, has caused me to delay visiting them, though I shall do so on their return, with an adequate excuse. Parliament hopes by this means to make a close alliance with the States. But their rigid reserve is noted with astonishment and suspicion, as they are paying no visits before they see the king, a thing that was not observed by the Ambassador Harcourt.
London, the 5th February, 1644.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]
Feb. 5.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Ceffalonia. Venetian Archives.
79. Francesco Contarini, Venetian Proveditore of Cephalonia, to the Doge and Denate.
Measures taken to prevent smuggling by the English ship Golden Falcon. Received news on the 4th September that it was going to the Morea to lade currants. Note from the ducal missives of the 24th October, received on the 17th December that two barques were observed taking currants to the Golden Lion, which is the same as the Golden Falcon. This is not to be wondered at as the island is large and the armed barques were not able to approach the ship, which has not allowed them to come near and which remained all night at sea. It is difficult and almost impossible to carry out the wishes of the state. Observes that the people here offer a strong resistance to the forces of the law. From what he understands they keep hidden breaches of this character and crimes, especially since the difficulty of disposing of currants, both because of the profits to be gained and from fear of the delinquents themselves.
Cephalonia, the 26th January, 1644, old style.
Feb. 12.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Inghilterra. Venetian Archives.
80. Gerolamo Agostini, Venetian Secretary in England, to the Doge and Senate.
Not finding any crimes against the Archbishop of Canterbury which would justify a sentence of death, which they desire to please the people, they have put off the matter to another opportunity, especially as affairs of greater importance have cropped up. All the commanders by land and sea are here to arrange about the maintenance of their forces and their employment in the approaching season. With this opportunity and enquiring into past incidents, Essex has accused of negligence some members of parliament who held office, and suggested the nomination of commissioners to visit his army and give an account to parliament of its condition. For this reason and because of the friction which still continues between him and Waller, he offered to resign the generalship. But this was not accepted, and the question was calmed down.
The Admiral Warwick has shown letters from the governor of the Isle of Wight, (fn. 1) who fears attack from the new association between the counties of Devon and Cornwall, and asks that his garrisons may be strengthened and ships sent. This was decided at once and the orders given to Warwick.
While the generals are consulting here news comes of a defeat inflicted by the united forces of Bruerton and Fairfax upon Biron and his Irish near Nantwich, capturing his guns baggage and a considerable number of prisoners, both men and officers. (fn. 2) At the same time letters have arrived from Scotland, and three plenipotentiaries, a fourth being on the road, (fn. 3) † with the news that they have issued a declaration with the assurance that their forces are only coming to bring peace, unite the churches and deliver the king from evil councillors. They protest that they will be ready to go away whenever the English, their allies, desire. Finally a part of the army has advanced 20 miles into England from Berwick. The commander of the king in the four border counties, (fn. 4) had the news from a herald, sent by the Scottish commander. In consultation with the gentlemen of those counties he suggested defending themselves, burning the country or retiring. The first was found difficult owing to superior forces. To the second some objected, so they decided on the third. When the Marquis of Newcastle heard this he sent orders to resist, promising that he would march to their assistance. There is no news of the issue yet, but their spirits at Court are somewhat cast down.
On Tuesday evening a herald arrived here from Oxford, and was taken to parliament with his eyes bandaged. He delivered a letter from the assembly there, signed by the princes and by about 200 others of the lords and commons, directed to General Essex. They urge him to prevent the imminent dangers to the kingdom from the entry of new armies, and to try for a satisfactory settlement, for which they offer their most earnest endeavour. He had the letter read to parliament, and they chose commissioners to draw up the reply for him. It was decided that they should merely acknowledge the receipt, and enclose a copy of the league or covenant with the Scots together with a declaration of the two nations that those who choose to swear to it shall be received into favour in both, with some moderate punishment in their goods which shall be considered proportionable to their previous disobedience. For this they have appointed commissioners and fixed the 1st March old style. But they exclude the Catholics who have taken arms for the king and leave little hope for his Majesty's chief councillors.
Parliament is offended because the letter was directed to the general as they know quite well that this was done in order not to recognise the assembly as a parliament. To enhance its own importance and in contempt of the other, it has issued writs under the new great seal for elections in place of the dead. To win over the more obstinate sectaries who claim to be independent of synods and of every ecclesiastical hierarchy, the king has written to some of the ministers of this faction in the synod that he will permit full liberty of conscience ; his object being to prevent the uniformity of religion desired by the Scots. But the device has not produced the effect intended, since the ministers have shown the letters to parliament. And so through ill fortune or by the disloyalty of those who serve him, most of the royal attempts end in failure.
Reports are constantly circulating here of the queen going to France, to Bristol or to Ireland, but no decision has yet been taken. It is to be feared that amid so many hostile forces Oxford will not be a safe abode for her.
The French ambassador, having taken leave and received a bracelet (armacello) of diamonds, talks of hastening away, but he keeps putting it off, although viewed with suspicion, to hear the final decision from a courier whom he sent to France about the seizure of more packets despatched from Oxford and taken at Dover, which were opened without any respect and not even given back, being the more suspicious because they were in cipher. Meanwhile he is watching the proceedings of the Dutch ambassadors, who have received letters from the secretary of state with permission to go, but asking them to send couriers to prepare quarters, which means that they will not be defrayed, like Harcourt. They have received a passport from this side also, but not free, as they asked, a clear indication that their caution and preciseness with his Majesty are not liked, the more so because parliament is informed that there is a suspected Irishman in their suite, and they have sent commissioners to the ambassadors' house to examine him. (fn. 5) Trouble has arisen about exchanging visits with the French ambassador. They sent to say they would be pleased to see him if they were assured of the right hand and the title of "Excellency." He replied that while he would show them every courtesy it was not for him to accord anything. So relations are broken off between them for the time.
As regards Mr. Talbot's office I can assure your Serenity that the king cherishes the kindest feelings towards the Italian league and to the most serene republic in particular, to which he considers himself especially indebted for the sympathy shown to him in his troubles and for the care shown by your ministers to avoid prejudicing him, but that levies should be offered by his order is incompatible with the lack of infantry in particular which he himself experiences and it will be absolutely impossible to obtain any from these three kingdoms so long as the present trouble endure. However, I have written to the deputy of the secretary of state under a suitable pretext, in order to fulfil your instructions.
The results of my efforts about the currants are already appearing at Bristol and here as you will have seen from my previous despatches and I have no doubt that this will increase owing to the rivalry.
London, the 12th February, 1644.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]
Feb. 19.
Senato, Secreta. Deliberazioni, Corti. Venetian Archives.
81. To the Secretary in England.
Acknowledge the receipt of his despatches of the 22nd and 29th ult., which arrived together. Glad to know that his letters remained intact. Nevertheless the energy and the extraordinary severity which they show in these interceptions will render him more circumspect in his conduct and in the use of the cipher. Pleased to hear of parliament permitting the unlading of the Rainbow from Zante, as it shows an inclination towards negotiations in which his action to promote trade between Bristol and Zante has greatly assisted, while it has induced the merchants, the Company and the parliamentarians to relax their original determination. In general he will support to the extent of his powers this trade which is so old and so useful to the state. For the rest he will keep on the alert about the Dutch ambassadors and their negotiations, as well as whatever else deserves observation amid the fluctuations of affairs, always doubtful and variable sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other.
Ayes, 144. Noes, 2. Neutral, 4.
Feb. 19.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Inghilterra. Venetian Archives.
82. Gerolamo Agostini, Venetian Secretary in England, to the Doge and Senate.
If the results corresponded with the decisions all the armies of this side would now be reinforced, but the idle being engaged and the most ardent grown cold, but few remain to offer themselves while those forced run away. Accordingly the core of the army for the next campaign will have to consist of the citizens here, in spite of their demands to the contrary and their objections. The absence of the generals, who are still here, renders incidents scarce. In spite of the victory at Nantwich Biron has made a slight reaction against Fairfax and Bruerton. But Meldron has captured the little island of Aioxam on the Trent, which was convenient for the passage of food through Niuvarch to the North.
No news has come of the progress of the Scots, to the amazement of parliament and the people here, who were persuaded that to come and to conquer would be simultaneous, or that the latter would precede the former. Colonel Gleman, commanding for the king in the four border counties, encouraged by Newcastle and by Chingh, who is approaching with 4,000 men, with the consent of the gentry of the county, has answered the Scots with vigour and decision. Thus the Scots, who advanced with a few regiments, possibly in order that the monthly payments might begin to run, are obliged to wait for the rest of the army, which is not yet ready, and meanwhile they find that position inconvenient for foraging. Yet the plenipotentiaries of that nation have obtained from parliament the erection of a Council of State composed of the two nations, consisting of 25 councillors, who are given charge of the most important affairs, reserving for parliament, besides the general provisions, the negotiation of peace, the object being not to facilitate it but to make it more difficult, although at the outset they gave permission to this Council to send a petition to the king to summon it again, in order to justify the continuation of the war by the refusal of which they had no doubt. This petition is to be discussed at the first sittings, whereby the English will be commanded by a foreign and hostile nation, and by a few individuals who, disguising their rebellion and tyranny under, the cloak of religious zeal, have no aim but their own advantage, which is quite apart from the common service, and no means but violence.
The Assembly at Oxford is still meeting. Although differences have arisen, some wishing to remove the Catholics from the Court, yet these have been quieted owing to the king's present need to make use of all his subjects. According to reports from there, when they saw that the king's move for peace would fail, they decided to assist his Majesty with 100,000l. sterling, and by arming 10,000 foot and 5,000 horse. How they mean to do this is not yet known, but it may prove difficult.
The declaration sent to Oxford by Essex by order of parliament in reply to the peace offer, inviting them to abandon the king, has had effect as Dirin, a member of parliament, has already come and they talk of others and even of Obton himself, but hope is stimulated by desire. It is true that he is out of favour with his Majesty for his lack of success on this last occasion, for which he has been summoned to Oxford to render account to a Council of War. To prevent the mischief and to help his own side the king has issued a proclamation forbidding any of his people to go to London, upon pain of death. He also commands those who owe money to any of this city to make payment at Oxford, for the use of the armies.
The Ambassador Harcourt is ready to go and says he will start on Monday next. The courier he expected has reached him from France with orders to Cressi to go as well. The ambassador had very pressing instructions from the queen to make the most strenuous efforts to release Montegu, even speaking in her name to such of the lords here as he thinks advisable. To prevent this they have issued an order that no member of parliament may treat with foreign ministers. This has been intimated to him alone, and with him only is it observed.
The Dutch ambassadors have gone to Oxford without visiting him. So far we have heard nothing of their negotiations. Here they waver between hope and fear that these may be about the recognition of parliament.
London, the 19th February, 1644.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]
Feb. 26.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Inghilterra. Venetian Archives.
83. Gerolamo Agostini, Venetian Secretary in England, to the Doge and Senate.
The Houses of parliament have been deeply agitated these last days over the institution of the new Council of State of the two nations. The Lower House assumed the privilege of nominating also the members of the Upper who were to serve on it. The extremists desired that this Council should have supreme authority to direct events. But the others, and General Essex in particular, perceived that their aim was to deprive parliament of control, and they contended vigorously that this Council should only advise and report. After some dispute the appointments have been made with mutual satisfaction, and their authority defined for six weeks, but it may not prove easy to unite so many wills to deprive themselves of power for ever, which is what the others are trying for.
Preoccupation over this question has delayed provision for the armies so the generals are still here, and the forces even reduced, some mortality being rife among Waller's men. From the very first, to attract men parliament decided on high pay, for the private soldiers as well as for the officers, in the hope that the war would not last long. But with these troubles dragging on more and more, and finding it impossible to meet demands, especially with the addition of the contributions to the Scots, they have made an order that the officers shall only receive half their pay and remain creditors for the rest, without other security than the good faith of the state, now deeply pledged.
Bruerton, one of the victors at Nantwich, has arrived here, bringing some of the captured leaders as a trophy. He had an ovation in the city, and will be leaving in a few days with powers from parliament to levy contributions from all classes for the support of his army, wherever he may be.
The king's efforts are at present devoted to securing complete control of the West, to which there are two very stiff obstacles, Plymouth and Gloucester. He has sent Prince Rupert towards the latter with a few troops, who has already defeated the defenders, who advanced to dispute his passage. For the other, the men of Devon are preparing to send help to Prince Maurice, who has been besieging it so long without success. There is just now a quarrel between the principal commanders in the place.
The assembly at Oxford continues to increase and to second the king's desires. Besides the grant and arming of troops reported it has been decided that this army shall be maintained in time of war and of peace as well. The object is to induce many cadets of noble houses to enlist in imitation of the guards and old regiments of France. But the resolution may prove premature, as it might increase the suspicions of the people. who are only too inclined to believe that his Majesty aims at evading the laws by force. The Assembly is also considering how to fortify Oxford better, which is menaced next spring, and to provide safe quarters for the queen, who is found to be pregnant.
The Scots are advancing in the Bishopric of Durham and have sent forward a part of their army towards Newcastle, which has captured Cochet Island. An officer from Newcastle's army has escaped with some troopers and joined them, so it looks as if their enterprise would prove successful, unless the Irish who are gathered on the coast, decide to cross to that country for a diversion, as the royal commissioners urge them to do, their own country being free from hostile forces. 1,500 soldiers arrived recently at Bristol to serve his Majesty. They are the residue of the English sent by parliament at the beginning of the rebellion there, but disgusted with that body for not having supplied them with their provisions or pay.
The French ambassador Harcourt left for Dover last Tuesday, taking M. di Cressi with him. He neither gave nor received satisfaction from the king's ministers or parliament, being opposed to the former as leaning to the Spanish party and refusing to recognise the latter. So far as I gather he says that if in France they want to follow up these affairs by negotiations they should address themselves to Scotland, as the country which has most need of that crown and is most dependent upon it, since the direction of affairs will rest in their hands, and he believes that their interests differ but little from those of France, as it suits them, if they do not desire conquest, to prevent the democracy which the English want and to support the king but without authority, so that they may have the appointments and form a third party, which makes them safe in any event.
The Dutch ambassadors have had their first audience at Oxford, and were apparently well received, which augments the suspicions here.
London, the 26th February, 1644.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]


  • 1. Capt. Carne wrote from the Isle of Wight on the 25th January asking for martial law. Journals of the House of Lords, Vol VI., p. 397.
  • 2. On the 25th January, O.S.
  • 3. Lords Loudoun and Maitland, Sir Archibald Johnston, lord Warriston and Robert Barclay. Loudoun was reported at Great Yarmouth on the 30th Jan., O.S., and not expected in London for three weeks. Journals of the House of Lords, Vol. VI., page 399.
  • 4. Sir Thomas Glemham, governor of Newcastle is probably meant. This letter of the Scottish leaders was sent to him on the 20-30 Jan. and to other gentlemen of Northumberland, at Alnwick. Rushworth : Hist. Collections, Pt. III., Vol. II., page 606.
  • 5. Perhaps the Mr. Dillon, accused of insulting Sir Thomas Walsingham. Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. II., page 384.