Venice: November 1641, 16-30

Pages 242-253

Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 25, 1640-1642. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1924.

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November 1641, 16-30

Nov. 16.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Germania. Venetian Archives.
280. Thadio Vico, Venetian Resident in Germany, to the Doge and Senate.
The English ambassador already begins to announce that according to his instructions if the matter is not despatched in two months, with a third after the principle has been settled, he will return to England.
I paid my respects to Prince Rupert, who responded with every courtesy. He said nothing about the Palatinate, except that they left the cause in God's hands. For the rest, he was going to England in a few days. The ambassador, who is always with the prince, added, we shall leave soon if we do not see something better for us. This Collegiate Assembly is not made for us but for questions concerning the liberty of Germany. He added that at the diet of Ratisbon the emperor had gained more for his house than any of his predecessors since Charles V.
Vienna, the 16th November, 1641.
Nov. 22.
Senato, Secreta. Deliberazioni. Corti. Venetian Archives.
281.. To the Ambassador in London.
We have received your despatch of the 25th October, with your account of the sinister offices of the merchant Obson. You will continue to cast discredit upon him, maintaining that it is a maxim of our government never to refuse justice to foreigners but rather to assist them in their causes, against our own subjects. If necessary you will insist by strong representations that letters of marque can never be granted where sincere friendship exists between princes and that it is the true way to sow scandal, to the prejudice of trade, the diminution of his Majesty's customs and to universal confusion.
That the Avogadori di Commun and the Five Savii alla Mercanzia be required to report about the complaint of the English merchant Obson as soon as possible, with all particulars of his claims, for the information of the state.
Ayes, 89. Noes, 4. Neutral, 2.
Nov. 22.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Inghilterra. Venetian Archives.
282. Gio. Giustinian, Venetian Ambasador in England, to the Doge and Senate.
Since the news of the rebellion in Ireland and the opening of the letters of the ambassador of the Catholic, parliament has appointed several commissioners of both Houses who are charged to examine all the letters which arrive in future from France, Flanders and Italy, for the purpose of discovering those who are conspiring elsewhere for such movements. (fn. 1) When the French mail arrived on Tuesday, all the letters were opened without distinction, excepting the packet of the Most Christian ambassador from the Court, although the rest of the letters, addressed to his familiars, suffered the fate of all the rest. The outside cover was removed from my packet, and it was afterwards brought to me by the Ambassador Fildinch and the brother of the Earl of Westmoreland, to assure me that it had been opened by mistake by a person who did not know Italian, and ask me to excuse the mishap, and believe that it had not been done to offend me. They made the most lavish protestations to remove my suspicions.
Seeing that the letters inside had not been touched, and reflecting that in the present difficult state of affairs it would be unprofitable to burden myself with a grievance when it could be avoided, I thought it advisable to accept their excuses, and so I said that I did not think that gentlemen of such prudence would have opened my packet with evil intent, and that it was the result of mere inadvertence. I pointed out that it was necessary to proceed in the future with more care, as the excuse would not serve a second time, and I cautiously hinted at the consequences involved in opening the letters of ambassadors. With this they left.
On the following day the letters from Flanders arrived and were all opened by the commissioners. The packet sent me by your Serenity had the first seals of St. Mark broken, one of the public letters was opened, with others directed to me, the secretary and others of the household. The same thing was done with the packet of the Spanish ambassador, though they did not open his king's despatches, only those of his servants.
Seeing there was no longer room for dissimulation, the affront being given to your Excellencies as much as to my office, I thought it expedient to inform the Earl of Arundel, as being a leading minister and friendly with me. I went to his house and found him in the company of several members of parliament and other lords of the Council. I told him what had happened, expressed my resentment and the injury done to my ministry, and since the privileges of public honour were broken I no longer had the heart to stay here, but would withdraw until I received orders from your Excellencies. All of them expressed exceeding regret. They said that the Commissioners were barbarians ; the affront was extreme, not only to me but to your Excellencies. They enlarged upon the deserts of the most serene republic with this crown, and urged me with one accord to demand audience of the Council today and present a memorial upon the incident, so that remedial steps might be taken. Although I recognised that this was the best advice to follow, yet I expressed disagreement and the intention to withdraw. They all declared that I could not have a better case and begged me again to make a memorial and inform the king in Scotland. At length I consented and have been to the Council this morning on purpose, where I presented the attached memorial with a serious office suitable to the circumstances.
They replied that they regretted the incident. They would inform parliament, with a particular desire to show the esteem they feel for the minister of your Excellencies. Lord Fildinch also expressed the utmost regret and tried to soothe my annoyance.
No one knows for certain what was the real motive which led to the opening of the letters. Some say that the commissioners expected to find in my packet letters from Rome to individuals in London, as often happens. Others that the commissioners, annoyed at the opening of the Spanish ambassador's letters, wished to give him a companion by opening mine. Many assert that the commissioners, being incompetent and uninformed about state affairs, did it merely from curiosity and caprice, not knowing the consequences of opening state letters. I cannot say which it is. (fn. 2)
Meanwhile I have not been able to secure a new house in the country, in spite of every effort. I think it desirable to withdraw if I can find accommodation, to Gravesend, or some other place until instructions reach me or until they make some proposal here which may restore the honour of the state, though I shall not accept until I hear the pleasure of your Excellencies. The Spanish ambassador has also withdrawn for the same reason. He has asked me to join with him in the matter. I replied with the utmost courtesy, but I do not think it desirable to do this because of the suspicions abroad here that the Catholic king may be encouraging the disturbance in Ireland.
I am sending this by my gentleman at Antwerp, so that it may arrive safely. While boldly maintaining the rights of my office I shall not cut off the way of negotiation, though always maintaining proper reserve and dignity.
London, the 22nd November, 1641.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]
283. Memorial to the Council.
Recites the privileges of ambassadors, among which is the inviolability of their letters, which is a universal practice. His last letters from France and Zurich were opened, but on this he accepted the assurance of two gentlemen that it was due to an error, as he did not believe that the ministers of the noble and generous English nation would be guilty of such a violation of the law of nations. A fresh experience has shown that this is not so, as his letters from Venice have been opened, even those addressed to him by the most serene republic, and their seals broken. He informs them of this incident so that they may take steps to vindicate the good faith of the nation and to prove to the world that England does not pretend to introduce new laws and that it means to show the respect due to the ministers of the republic.
284. Gio. Giustinian, Venetian Ambassador in England, to the Doge and Senate.
Although reports persist that the king is to return to residence here within a fortnight I learn from a trustworthy authority that the Scots are keeping him carefully guarded, under the name of safety and honour. That more uncertainty reigns than ever, with extreme danger to his Majesty, since it is suspected that parliament here has a secret understanding with that of Scotland, and is conspiring with it for the hurt of these princes.
News from Ireland is awaited with great impatience. They are hastening the levies with all their might, with the intention of sending some portion of them with all speed to succour the city of Dublin, which is believed to be attacked by the Catholics and in peril of falling. Arrangements have been made with the merchants for the payment of a certain sum of money of Spain in that kingdom as soon as possible. The Parliamentarians here express misgivings that the troops collected by the pope against Parma, may be sent by him across to Ireland. Although those of most experience consider this a delusion and with good cause, yet such reports serve to excite the people still more against the Catholics. By a resolution passed by both Chambers they have decided to make known to the ambassadors that they must not in future employ priests who are subjects of his Majesty. In anticipation of this decision I have engaged a person of another nation.
They have also decided to order the Capuchins not to wear their habit any more or to live together in Somerset House, but that they shall all live at the queen's residence dressed as simple seculars, and that some who will be named by parliament as suspect shall be sent to France. The Ambassador of the Most Christian is trying to prevent this from being carried out, but it is feared, without success.
The queen's confessor still remains in prison. They charge him with having had some share in the disturbances in Ireland and also with trying to persuade the prince to embrace Catholicism. Accordingly he is menaced with overwhelming misfortune. This is all I am able to report as I have not been able to collect more copious news.
London, the 22nd November, 1641.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]
285. Gio. Giustinian, Venetian Ambassador in England, to the Doge and Senate.
At the very last moment there have come to this house the Marquis of Erfort, governor of the prince, the Earl of Lince, great Chamberlain of the realm and Lord Fildinch. They said they had been directed by the Upper House to come together with the Earl of Arundel, who is prevented by sickness, to express the regret felt by the whole nobility of England at the opening of my packets. Parliament condemned and detests this action and has tried to find out which of the commissioners opened the letters, in order to punish him, but had not succeeded. Parliament desired to afford me every satisfaction. There was no suspicion about the letters or procedure of the ministers of your Excellencies, or of me especially. Parliament pledges its word that no packet shall suffer this hurt in the future, and as a testimony of respect they had decided to petition his Majesty to send Lord Fildinch at once with commissions and letters of credence to offer excuses and give every satisfaction to your Excellencies. They assured me that England felt itself as much affronted by the event as yourselves. They exhausted themselves in expressing the disgust which everyone feels, and finally Lord Fildinch produced the actual decree of parliament on the subject, of which I enclose a translation.
I replied that parliament did right in resenting the injury, but in a matter of such importance I could not decide anything, but only report to your Excellencies and receive your instructions. And in spite of what they said, I held fast to this. Accordingly they asked me to inform your Excellencies of all this and to ask if you will accept this offer of the parliament to send Fildinch with special letters as atoneing for this affair. In the mean time they will send a courier to Scotland to learn the king's pleasure about Fildinch going. With this they left. (fn. 3) I shall await instructions to guide me in this thorny affair and with a people constant only in inconstancy.
London, the 22nd November, 1641.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]
Enclosure. 286. The 12—22 November, 1641.
The House of Peers has directed that four peers shall be sent to the Ambassador of Venice to disapprove of the action and to try and give him satisfaction, declaring how much they feel affronted by an act injurious alike to the credit of the state and the law of nations. They have also decided to petition his Majesty to hasten the departure of the ambassador for Venice to express these sentiments to the republic as well as their esteem for it. (fn. 4)
Nov. 29.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Inghilterra. Venetian Archives.
287. Gio Giustinian, Venetian Ambassador in England, to the Doge and Senate.
Since I sent my last the Earl of Arundel has given me confidential information of what took place in parliament on the subject. He told me that when the memorial was read in the Upper House by the Council of State, it won universal approval as well as detestation for the act itself. For such a violation of good faith the only remedy was to punish the delinquents, that is the commissioners. I understand that these are members of the Lower House and among the most powerful, and that renders punishment very difficult. The proposal was supported strongly by the Earls of Arundel, Bar and Bristol, who argued in lengthy speeches that the names of the culprits should be disclosed so that they might be punished. The Earls of Holland and Essex, leaders of the Puritans, opposed this strongly, protecting those who did the wrong. They admitted that the action deserved blame and correction but without punishing the authors, who claim to have done it inadvertently. Lord Fildinch got up and supported Holland, stating it particular that your Excellencies do not make such capital of ambassadors as is thought. Any satisfaction would suffice to appease your Serenity. He recommended sending the four peers to offer excuses.
This was carried by two votes, although the others protested that proceedings should be taken against the culprits, and that the king would certainly desire this satisfaction to be given, though it will be difficult if not impossible. He asked me if I had informed the king and queen, declaring that their Majesties would be offended if I had not. I said I proposed to do so, and until instructions reached me and reparation was made I intended to withdraw. He approved. Accordingly I have sent my gentleman to the king with letters to his Majesty and the Secretary of State of which I enclose a copy. I afterwards asked audience of the queen through the Master of the Ceremonies. Before arranging it she secretly informed the Earl of Oland and Seth and Fildin. They were greatly incensed, imagining that I was trying to force the king in this way to punish the culprits, and that this act, which is disapproved by the whole city, would be rendered more conspicuous to the prejudice of the authors and the discredit of parliament as well. So they sent me word by the Master of Ceremonies that I must give up the idea. I replied that the nature of the affront impelled me to inform his Majesty and await reparation as I told the nobles who visited me.
The Master of the Ceremonies being gone and the audience appointed for the following day, Fildin came here a few hours later on the pretence of bringing a resolution of the Upper House directing the Master of the Posts always to consign the packets to me. There was no necessity for this as he is bound to do so, and he is not instructed to refrain from taking them to parliament, as Fildin had to admit, with some confusion. He went on to try and persuade me to rest satisfied with parliament's disapproval of the act, saying that the culprits would never be punished. So on Sunday I saw the queen at Otlant. Olant, Esseth and Fildin also went there, and intimated through the Master of the Ceremonies that if I went too far in complaining to the queen they would try and do me some harm with your Excellencies, as they were well aware that I wanted to stir up the king and queen against the delinquents. I made no answer to this. I was then introduced to the queen, at whose side were these very lords and the French ambassador as well. I told her how much I felt honoured at being appointed to this Court, to sovereigns and a nation which had always shown such generosity and courtesy to the republic. I had hoped to enjoy the same advantages and my hopes had been realised, particularly with those lords who were present. But I felt bound to tell her what had happened and I had sent to inform the king as well. I then related the circumstances exactly as in the memorial. I said I felt sure parliament had no part in it, but an act of this kind which offended my office and my prince, which would be blamed by the most barbarous nations, not to speak of a noble and courteous one like the English impelled me to ask her Majesty to allow me to withdraw until instructions should reach me, his Majesty return and reparation be given.
The queen heard me very graciously, said she regretted the incident and that when the king returned she hoped I should have entire satisfaction. She assured me several times that the king and herself were entirely satisfied with my behaviour and begged me strongly not to withdraw from the Court. Reflecting that to consent would not prejudice my decision and would leave the way open for your commands about the proposed prohibition of currants I told her after some discussion that to avoid disobeying her Majesty I would not withdraw from Court until instructions reached me, but that I would suspend the exercise of my functions until due satisfaction was given.
As I have said, the nobles who are mixed, up with those who opened the letters were present at this office. When they heard that this nation would be condemned by the most barbarous the Earl of Oland separated from the audience and called the others. The Secretary Agustini, who was near me, observed this and not being able to imagine the reason, he approached them to find out as he knows English. He heard them say, We must unite and inform parliament that the ambassador has spoken insultingly, comparing the English with barbarians. We must complain strongly to the republic about this in order to prevent his demand for the punishment of those who opened the letters and we must try to get the ambassador disowned. (fn. 5)
Being warned of this after the audience by the Secretary and by the Master of the Ceremonies himself, who ivas amazed at this invention, I thought it prudent to write the enclosed note to the queen to put in writing the care with which I spoke, which was commended by all who heard it, except these interested parties. I also learn that Fildin, anxious to favour those who opened the letters, is writing to his secretary at Venice to get him to appease the just resentment of your Excellencies. On the other hand the Earl of Arundel and other lords have assured me that at the king's return he will not fail to give every possible satisfaction to your Excellencies. I may add that the whole parliament, with the exception of a few partisans of the delinquents, regrets the event extremely, and fully approves of my behaviour on this occasion. Besides the queen's request, the Upper House sent Baron Bruch to ask me not to withdraw from this city until the reply of your Excellencies about the reparation is known. I replied in the same form as to the queen.
No sign of respect has been shown to the Spanish ambassador about the opening of his letters, and he is impatiently awaiting the king to obtain it. But this will be the more difficult because they were opened by express order of parliament, whereas mine were only opened through the private caprice of two of the commissioners, through incapacity or possibly ill will.
London, the 29th November, 1641.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]
Enclosure. 288. Letter of Giustinian to the King.
Relates the opening of the letters to him from France and of those from Venice, including those of the state under seal on the following day. Feels constrained to report this offence to the public honour of which he has already given a fuller account to the Council, in order that his Majesty may be able to take steps to vindicate his esteem for the republic and its ministers. (fn. 6)
London, the 23rd November, 1641.
289. Gio. Giustinian to the Secretary of State.
Encloses a memorial presented to the Council to be shown to his Majesty, who will, he is persuaded, take steps to vindicate his esteem for the republic and its ministers.
London, the 23rd November, 1641.
290. Giovanni Giustinian to the Queen.
On leaving his audience learned that some, who do not understand Italian misunderstood him as having spoken against the English nation. Her Majesty knows that, on the contrary, he exalted their generosity and courtesy, shown by their own condemnation of the action of which he complained. It would be a new injury to misinterpret his words.
London, the 25th November, 1641.
Nov. 29.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Inghilterra. Venetian Archives.
291. Gio. Giustinian, Venetian Ambassador in England, to the Doge and Senate.
The Irish rebels, having strongly garrisoned the places they had taken, advanced against Dublin with 30,000 combatants for the siege, which they are prosecuting with great vigour, and not without hopes of success although only 10,000 are provided with firearms, and they lack great artillery to force the place. They confirm the original announcement that they remain obedient subjects of his Majesty and have taken action with the sole object of securing liberty of conscience and restoring the legitimate authority of their lawful sovereign, being resolved to obey the king and not the parliament of England.
Here, on the other hand they relax no effort to push on the levies, but the lack of money and the reluctance of the people to go to take part in the defence there render their efforts less successful than the need requires.
The Scots have offered to send speedily 5000 well disciplined men to Ireland, and they promise the most powerful additional assistance. Upon this are based the strongest hopes of bringing the designs of the rebels to nought.
This city has presented a memorial to parliament representing that its long continuance destroys the trade of this great city, tightens the purses of the richest, deprives the poor of the power to obtain their daily food, and that the privilege of the members, that neither they nor their servants can be compelled by the Courts to pay their debts, causes serious loss and discontent among the people, since this city is creditor to the members of the Upper House alone for two million pounds sterling. They have asked for redress and that every man may have the power to recover his own. (fn. 7)
No reply has been given to this request, reasonable as it is, but all the same it has seriously perturbed the leading parliamentarians, as they look upon it as a proof of the discontent against the parliament, which is now general, and it loses credit and reputation daily.
The city, on its side, has drawn up a fresh paper with the same demands and others which it proposes to give to the king and to ask for his help and patronage.
Meanwhile several of his Majesty's servants who arrived on Monday from Scotland, bring positive news that his Majesty will enter London on Thursday in next week. The city, in token of its gladness, is preparing for his public reception, banquets and other ceremonials.
The Puritans and parliamentarians of that party resent this as they suspect that the people, grown tired of so much violence, are contemplating a return to their old loyalty and devotion to his Majesty. Accordingly they try to stir them up by all manner of inventions, as you shall hear. On Monday they had a tailor (fn. 8) suffering from two wounds brought into parliament. He reported that being in the fields near here he saw a troop of people, and on approaching them designedly, he heard them speak of assassinating several members of the Upper and Lower Houses. He asserts that these people were Catholics, and when they found he had heard what they said they tried to kill him ; but he had escaped from their hands and had come in that state to inform parliament, so that the mischief might be prevented and the conspirators castigated, among whom he named two priests.
On hearing this report many judged it foolish and malicious. But those who seek their own safety in the midst of trouble and the preservation of their authority, said that it must be accepted and remedies taken. That as a protection against the plots of the English Catholics, they must all be commanded to leave London within the space of 24 hours, and the foreign ones to give security to behave properly, else they will be arrested, imprisoned and expelled from the kingdom. That every effort shall be made to arrest the two priests, all of which was adopted. Accordingly all the English Catholics have been obliged to leave this city ; 15,000 foreigners have found securities, and others who have not been able to do so are in prison. Many houses have been searched for the priests, and they are continuing the enquiry into this fresh conspiracy, which unprejudiced persons consider a pure invention of those who are trying to maintain their present fortunes. In order to give it greater credit among the people the story has been published anonymously, and names the French ambassador as the prime mover. This has made him very angry and he has complained to the parliamentarians, demanding the punishment of the printer of this paper.
There are disturbances in the country as well, with more danger than in this city, and so, for safety's sake, I have yielded to the request of the queen and parliament to stay here until instructions reach me from your Excellencies. But I shall remain in retirement, without performing my duties until some conspicuous reparation has been given to which your Excellencies agree.
It is hoped that these troubles will cease on the king's return, as there are signs that the people are beginning to realise the bad government and to resent the harm done, so that his Majesty may yet be able to recover some of his authority.
Any decision in the matter of the currants has remained in suspense since the representations I reported. I hope that when his Majesty is informed of the hurt that prohibition would cause, the idea will fall through. I learn that news having reached the merchants interested that the quantity of currants at Zante and Cephalonia will not be so great as was expected, their original enthusiasm for the prohibition has cooled considerably.
London, the 29th November, 1641.
[Italian ; the part in italics deciphered.]
Nov. 30.
Senato, Secreta. Deliberazioni, Corti. Venetian Archives.
292. To the Ambassador in London.
We commend your action in the matter of the trade in currants. If necessary you will make fresh representations to the Upper and Lower Houses through someone in your confidence, pointing out that efforts of this kind are prompted by hateful motives to secure private advantage to individuals, and are likely to cause a total interruption of trade and to cut the thread of mutual correspondence between princes, affecting even the duties which his Majesty draws from the traffic in cloth with notable advantage to himself and his subjects. That on the side of the republic every opening has been made for the cultivation of a sincere friendship, and an equal return might be anticipated. That the relations of states ought never to be affected by private interests. Upon every occasion the interests of the English merchants who trade in the Levant Islands have been protected and forwarded by the republic, and fresh orders have recently been issued for their good treatment. Since the decrees of the Chambers have no validity without the royal consent, if it should happen, though we cannot think it likely, that they should decide something prejudicial hi this matter, it will be necessary for you to have recourse to the king, when he has returned, to give him the particulars in the fullest manner of the true state of affairs in a question of this importance, pointing out his own advantage, in complete confidence that everything will be put right and a stop put to the progress of such pernicious schemes.
That the Five Savii alia Mercanzia be required to give their sworn opinion upon the subject of the currant trade with the English in the Levant islands, and as to the best way to encourage competition among the merchants and increase the trade, in a manner satisfactory to them and not hurtful to the state.
Ayes, 130. Noes, 0. Neutral, 1.
Nov. 30.
Senato, Secreta. Dispacci, Germania. Venetian Archives.
293. Thadio Vico, Venetian Secretary in Germany, to the Doge and Senate.
The English ambassador blusters and insists that for good or ill they shall put the finishing strokes to the affair at the earliest possible moment. He demands that they shall let him know what they intend before the end of next month, or else he will break off and go away. This is what Prince Rupert has already done, as he left on Monday by the posts with only four persons in attendance, for England. He went in the direction of Prague, but with the intention of proceeding first to the camp, to see the Archduke, (fn. 9) and then to go on, I believe, to Denmark, to acquaint the king there with the friendly intentions of the emperor.
Vienna, the 30th November, 1641.


  • 1. By a resolultion passed on the 9/19 Nov. letters from France and Antwerp were to be examined before the Committee for Irish affairs. Journal of the House of Commons, Vol. ii., page 309.
  • 2. According to Salvetti, writing on the 29th Nov., "la causa che mosse il parlamento di aprir il piego dell' ambasciatore di Venezia fu per la credenza che havevano che l' ambasciatore ricevesse lettere per la Regina et suoi correspondenti et che per mezzo di essi ella machinasse qual cosa contro questo stato, havendo il parlamento hoggi grandissima gelosia della Regina." Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 27962 I.
  • 3. The Journal of the House of Lords (Vol. iv., page 437) contains a summary of the report of this interview given by Fielding (Newnham) on the 13—23 November.
  • 4. Journal of the House of Lords, Vol. iv., page 435. Drafts of the papers on this matter are preserved at the Public Record Office. S.P. Venice, Vol. 44, at the end.
  • 5. Salvetti relates that Giustinian, in speaking to the queen, "non potesse ritenersi di non dire che simile cose non si facevano in Turchia. Questa comparazione disgusto tanto i Signori Consiglio di Stato che subito si ritirorno et credo che ne faranno dare parte a Venezia dal Segretario Inglese." Letter of 29th November. Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 27962 I.
  • 6. The original letter, in French is in the S.P. For. Venice.
  • 7. Read in parliament on the 15—25 November. Journal of the House of Lords, Vol. iv., page 438.
  • 8. Thomas Beale.
  • 9. Presumably Leopold William, the emperor's brother.