Venice: May 1598

Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 9, 1592-1603. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1897.

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'Venice: May 1598', in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 9, 1592-1603, (London, 1897) pp. 319-327. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]

May 1598

May 5. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 683. Agostino Nani, Venetian Ambassador in Spain, to the Doge and Senate.
The King has been very ill, with fever. The doctors, with the approval of Dr. Mercato, first physician, who has always avoided bleeding, resolved to draw four ounces. It flowed freely, but the King felt little benefit and had a slight fainting fit. While his Majesty was at the height of his trouble, he remembered the business about the renunciation of Flanders in favour of the Infanta; and on the first day of his mending, impelled by a desire to see the matter finished, or fearing that if he delayed he would not find time to carry it out, and that others would not do so, he caused the deed to be drawn up in French, and in the presence of the Prince, the Infanta, Don Christofore de Mora, Don Juan d'Idiaquez, the Marquis of Velada, and the President of Flanders, the Prince signed it first in the King's name, and then in his own, and swore on the Gospels and on a crucifix that he would inviolably observe and maintain the provisions of that deed.
Then the President of Flanders went down on his knees to the Princess and asked permission to kiss her hand as his Natural Sovereign. While she was giving her hand, her father desired that she should place it on the President's shoulder, according to the custom of Flanders.
The terms made public are that the King renounces in perpetual fief to his daughter, as her dower, all the Low Countries and the county of Burgundy, retaining for himself the Grand Mastership and headship of the Golden Fleece.
They say that the form of renunciation is carefully drawn up; and that the King, under pretext of preserving the fortresses for the Infanta, intends to keep them in his own hands.
In case the Infanta dies without issue the States are to revert to the Crown of Spain. But if the Cardinal Archduke survives her, he is to remain governor for life. The Prince will give the Infanta his hand as proxy for the Cardinal Archduke, and this ceremony may very likely take place on the 22nd of this month, his Majesty's birthday.
Madrid, 5th May 1598.
(Italian; the part in italics deciphered.)
May 6. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 684. Francesco Contarini, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
The King is at Nantes. The Pope has addressed to his Majesty an autograph letter, in winch he urges the King to conclude peace. The Ambassadors of England and Flanders do their best to secure the very opposite. From Angers they have set out for Nantes. Until they are dismissed nothing will be known for certain.
Paris, 6th May 1598.
May 9. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 685. Agostino Nani, Venetian Ambassador in Spain, to the Doge and Senate.
The English ships which were lying off the port of Lisbon have been driven by the north wind towards Cape St. Vincent; all the same the fleet has not had the courage to leave Lisbon, as they are afraid of exposing two millions of capital to a serious risk.
The English have asked fifty thousand ducats as ransom for the ships and cargo, though they are worth over one hundred and fifty thousand. If the Portuguese will not recover the in at that price, the English will likely throw a great part of the grain into the sea.
News has been received that the Queen of England has undertaken the strengthening of the castle at Falmouth (fn. 1); and also that she will despatch a large fleet, reinforced by the Dutch; but as there are no signs here of any preparations, neither by sea against the English, nor by land against the French, and as their whole attention is absorbed by the marriage, it is likely that they are in possession of good hopes for a peace or a truce.
All the same in Portugal they are exhorted to exercise the militia; and rumour says that Don Emanuel, son of the late Don Antonio, is on board the English fleet. If the fleet appeared at this moment when the Portuguese are more than usually exhausted and irritated, the danger and the trouble would be doubly great.
Madrid, 9th May 1598.
(Italian; the part in italics deciphered.)
May 13. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 686. Francesco Contarini, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
I suspect that the King has dismissed the English and Flemish Envoys, and has sent a courier to the commissioners at Vervins, with a statement of his wishes. Rumour has it that peace is concluded, and that the Cardinal Legate sent a courier at midnight, and with all secrecy, to inform the Pope. He has sent to Paris for provisions to give a banquet to the commissioners. Before saying anything to your Serenity, I sent my secretary to Vervins to discover the truth.
Paris, 13th May 1598.
May 13. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 687. Francesco Contarini, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
My secretary at Vervins found out what I now report.
On Saturday the 2nd of this month, at three in the afternoon, at the usual place of meeting, three documents were signed by all the Envoys; one of these was presented by the Flemish, another by the Spanish, another by the Ambassador of Savoy. The contents were that within two months the cities of Calais, Ardres, Châtlet la Chapelle, and Doulens are to be restored to the King, and Blauet in Brittany dismantled. During these two months the King is to hold four hostages, two Spanish and two Flemish.
The journey of President Richardot to Brussels was caused by the fact that the King would not come to terms unless his allies were included in a truce for three months at least. The Cardinal Archduke would not consent to this because he had a number of troops ready to fight the States of Holland. The Cardinal Legate accordingly obtained from the King his consent to accept a truce for two months only. The King wishes the treaty kept secret yet, perhaps so as to avoid publishing it in the face of the Envoys of his allies. The Spanish, on the other hand, want it published at once. The Princes have a month allowed them to sign the articles. The news has been announced to the King, to Spain, and to Savoy.
Paris, May 13th, 1598.
May 13. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 688. Francesco Contarini, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
The Envoys of the States of Holland are here. They declare that nothing will induce them to come to an accord with the King of Spain. They say they are well prepared to resist, having a fleet of upwards of one hundred sail, and their frontier towns are well garrisoned and provisioned. They are confident that the Queen of England will not abandon them, nor will she make peace. She has no reason to do so, as her kingdom is not exposed to the injuries which war usually inflicts. If she were at peace with Spain she would never be free of alarm at the Spanish fleet, which might suddenly attack her while apparently directed against Holland, and she would be obliged to maintain a fleet just the same as if she were at open war. Moreover, it would not be to her interest to see her neighbours reduced. They feel very bitterly that the King of France is going to remain in the confederation for one year only. The Envoys told me what arguments they had used to induce the King to continue in the League; and they explained that the Queen of England had offered to pay for six thousand foot, and the States six thousand and two thousand horse, artillery, and munitions of war, besides eighty ships manned and armed at their own charges.
His Majesty returned a gracious answer, but explained how sorry he was to be unable to second their intentions as the kingdom was unable to support the war any longer: and therefore, to satisfy his subjects, he was compelled to take the steps to which he was little inclined. They say that the Duchess of Beaufort (fn. 2) and M. de Villeroy have been his chief advisers; and that had the Marshal de Bouillon had more time things would never have reached this pass.
Finally, the Envoys pointed out to me the reasons which will induce other Princes to support the States of Holland, for it was their opposition to Spain which had prevented the King of Spain from dictating to the world at the present moment, and from making himself Monarch of Europe. They legged for the good will of the Republic. I confined myself to answering in general terms. The Envoys have gone to Rouen, and thence they will go to the coast in order to reach England, where they will await two other Envoys, who are setting out from Flanders. They will all see the Queen, and decide upon what course to pursue.
In order that your Serenity may see what the English have been doing, I enclose a letter from the English Agent, written from Nantes. I beg your Excellencies to observe the utmost secrecy on this and all other information contained in this despatch, so that I may be able to retain the confidence which I have gained at so great a price, for the loss of it would be an injury to your service.
Paris, 13th May 1598
[Italian; the part in italics deciphered.]
Enclosed in preceding Despatch. 689. Sir,—I have delayed answering your letter, as I was in expectation that the course of these important negotiations would issue in something definite. As yet, nothing but discussions have occupied one side and the other. But the King, when pressed, has declared that necessity will lead him to peace. To this the States of Holland, when invited to display their views, replied that their position absolutely excluded the idea of peace. The King insisted and said that he could not, without serious risk, change his first opinion, and he has invited the Queen to join with him in accepting peace. The English Ambassador has declined to take any step, for he was commissioned not to move, except in conjunction with the States. For this reason he has hurried his departure, and also in order to inform the Queen how the parties are disposed, and to receive her instructions on this important affair. He is taking me with him that I may bring back the Queen's decision. At present I. cannot give you the particulars of what has passed in these negotiations, but as I shall remain in England only three or four days, owing to the haste and the importance of the whole affair, and will then come straight to Paris, I will defer until I can tell you everything by word of mouth on my arrival there.
Meantime I beg you to keep this in your hands a secret; and to preserve me daily in the honour of your gracious favour as him who will ever be, my lord,
Your most humble and most
affectionate servant,
Thomas Edmondes.
Nantes, the 30th April 1598.
May 17. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 690. Agostino Nani, Venetian Ambassador in Spain, to the Doge and Senate.
I have succeeded in finding out some further details about the renunciation. The text was completed in three deeds. In the first the King renounced the Low Countries and the county of Burgundy in the same terms as the Emperor had conveyed them to him; reserving the Grand Mastership of the Golden Fleece, and the claims of the Duke of Burgundy to the crown of France, which title constitutes the pre-eminence of the Golden Fleece. In the second the Infanta accepts the renunciation with all its conditions. In the third the Prince swears to observe the pact. The object of the employment of three deeds is that the King may be able to publish the first only and to lead the rebels in Flanders to think that the renunciation is absolute and unconditional.
The fief is a perpetual fief in tail male. Failing legitimate male offspring the fief reverts to the Crown of Spain. If the Archduke Albert survives the Infanta he shall remain governor for life. If he predeceases the Infanta she may not marry again nor may she give her daughters in marriage without the consent of the Prince her brother. His Majesty reserves five of the principal strong places, in which he will put a garrison. Until matters settle down the King is bound to maintain order at his own charges.
After the deed of renunciation had been signed the marriage contract was also signed.
The King in honour of the occasion has allowed the ladies of the court to appear in his chamber masked. There was a great festival, and Don Juan d'Idiaquez told me that the King, though in bed, gave his orders and directed the ball with as quick and lively spirit as if he had been at the head of his army. He insisted on seeing the Prince dance, but with the Infanta, not with any of the ladies, as he showed a modest wish to do.
Madrid, 17th May 1597.
[Italian; the part in italics deciphered.]
May 19. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 691. Agostino Nani, Venetian Ambassador in Spain, to the Doge and Senate.
While writing this despatch news has been received from the Cardinal Archduke that he has agreed with his mutinous troops for a payment of five to six hundred thousand ducats, and he insists that larger sums must be sent. He is in the greatest straits for money.
The Duke of Mercœur is also asking for money. It will be as much as he can do to recover the money he has advanced to pay the garrison of Blauet.
From England we learn that the Queen is fortifying the most exposed points along the shore. She has recalled eight ships from France. As the Earl of Cumberland has been seen no more off Lisbon some Flemish hulks (urche) have sailed for Flanders and for Brazil. The Portuguese fleet, however, has not had the courage to weigh anchor as yet, for they are not convinced that the Earl is really gone for good.
Madrid, 19th May 1598.
May 20. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 692. Francesco Contarini, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
The Cardinal Archduke has sent a Spanish gentleman called Don Luis de Vanegas to the King. He will, after seeing the King, go on to Blauet to take the troops to Flanders.
The hostages have arrived; for Spain they are the Admiral of Aragon and Don Luis de Velasco; for the Flemish the Duke of Ærschot and Count Aremberg. Troops are said to be massed with a view to crushing the rebel States.
The peace is unpopular with three sorts of men, the soldiers, the financiers, and the Huguenots. The rest show signs of indescribable joy.
Paris, 20th May 1598.
May 25. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 693. Agostino Nani, Venetian Ambassador in Spain, to the Doge and Senate.
The Ministers here declare that the question of peace with the King of France is well forward, but they will not condescend upon particulars.
The Cardinal Legate in France writes to the Nuncio in the same sense and adds that there is no talk of the Queen of England nor of the States, but the Duke of Savoy will be content. Sig. Molio, secretary of the Duke, declares that a basis for agreement has been discovered, and that the Spanish will surrender all the strong places in Picardy, and even Calais; he adds that the position is such that they can hardly draw back now. The Cardinal has received, from point to point, sufficient powers. The Empress, however, has declared that she does not consider it settled yet. With England and the States they are negotiating for a suspension of arms, and, out of regard for the King's honour, there is a proposal to authorise the Archduke to conclude the treaty in his quality of Lord (Signor) of the Low Countries. It is said to be already concluded for four months. The (courier) has come with a passport from the King of France, and under obligation to return within a month. They are hastening to prepare a reply. The general opinion is that the peace is necessary, but that its terms are hardly honourable to the King and its endurance very doubtful. For the French will accept the peace in order to recover their strong places and then break it again when it suits them. It is also said that peace was far more necessary with the States than with France, and still more necessary with the Queen of England. But with her the peace cannot be concluded, for she refuses to restore to the Spanish the places she holds, and the King can accept no other terms.
Madrid, 25th May 1598.
[Italian; deciphered.]
May 25. Copy of Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 694. Francesco Vendramin, Venetian Ambassador in Germany, to the Doge and Senate.
The English Envoy sent here to negotiate about the prohibitions upon English commerce has not made any way as yet, thanks to the representations of the Cardinal Archduke and the Spanish Ambassador. He is much annoyed and shows copies of a letter written to the Emperor by the Queen of England and couched in very strong terms, declaring that to please the King of Spain his Imperial Majesty is doing himself an injury.
Prague, 25th May 1598.
May 27. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 695. Francesco Contarini, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
As soon as the Envoys of England and the States of Holland had left this kingdom, his Majesty published the peace in Brittany. When this was known at Vervins the Cardinal Legate also allowed it to be understood that it was concluded.
The King is expected here in three or four days, on his way to Amiens, where the oath will be taken and hostages given, and where the Cardinal Legate will go to meet him.
The English Agent (Thomas Edmondes) has come back in haste from England. He goes in great agitation to the King, for he affirms that the King had passed his word to the Ambassadors that he would conclude nothing with Spain until the Queen's answer was brought back, and a period of forty days was allowed for that purpose. The Agent will inquire whether special envoys should be sent, whether they will discuss together or separately, and finally whether there is still time for his mistress to take a part in the negotiations. The Agent himself gave me this information. (E ritornato in diligenza d'Inghilterra l'Agente di quella Regina, et se ne va al Rè con molta alteratione di animo, perche afferma, constantamente che sua Maestà haveva data la parola alli Ambasciatori con promissione di non concluder alcuna cosa con Spagnoli se prima non le fosse riferita l'intentione della Regina, per ciò le haveva prefinito il spatio di 40 giorni per ricever la risposta. Dimanderà, l'Agente se si doveranno mandar persone expresse per la trattatione, se si parlerà unitamente o separatamente, et in somma se vi è più tempo per la sua Regina d'introdursi in questi negotii. Li quali particolari mi son stati conferiti da lui medesimo.) He tells me that in England they are in great perplexity as to what they should do. The people are very desirous of peace, for it is they who live on navigation and trade, and so feel the burden of these times. They are shut out from Spain, and from the ports of the empire on the ground of their seizure of vessels carrying provisions to Spain. Longer voyages, such as to Italy and elsewhere, are possible only for those who have capital. The English accordingly are reduced to get their goods through Holland and Zealand. The Dutch, though at war, are not excluded from trading with Spain, and so they have amazingly increased their wealth. The Irish rebellion, which is fomented by many sovereigns and by her own subjects, is causing the Queen anxiety, and will require vigorous action and much money. The treasury is in such a state that it will take time to recover. Besides all these considerations there is at present facility for a peace with Spain, for as to the places which the Queen holds in Flanders, she holds them merely as security for money advanced and will give them back the moment she is paid.
On the other hand, there is this important reflexion that if the States of Holland are deprived of the support of two great sovereigns they may succumb, to the irreparable damage of others, especially their neighbours, not so much because they have not strength to resist, but because they may be terror-struck and rush to make peace on their own account. Their example might be followed, and thus the King of Spain would become the master of the States of Holland without fighting. These are the grave thoughts which occupy the mind of the Queen. They would be less serious if she were certain that the renunciation of the Netherlands to the Archduke and his marriage would really take place as the Spanish say. But she fears that before alienating those provinces they will do all they can to reduce them to obedience.
Paris, 27th May 1598.
[Italian; the part in italics deciphered.]


  • 1. Cf. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1598–1601, p. 18.
  • 2. Gabrielle d'Estrées.