Venice: April 1603

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: April 1603', in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 9, 1592-1603, (London, 1897) pp. 562-570. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

April 1603

April 3. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1166. Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Secretary in England, to the Doge and Senate.
I wrote to your Serenity, viâ Antwerp, on the twenty-seventh of last month, giving an account of the Queen's malady, and of all the steps which had been taken to meet the dangers which are threatening. But as I learn that the ports are closed, and consequently no letters can pass, I venture to send this brief despatch by many different routes, in the hope that one copy may reach you.
Her Majesty's life is absolutely despaired of, even if she be not already dead. For the last six days she has become quite silly, and indeed idiotic. The Council have issued orders for the quiet and safety of the kingdom, but it is doubtful if they will be obeyed. London is all in arms for fear of the Catholics. Although they number forty thousand they have no leaders as yet, are disunited, and one may say scattered throughout the country. Only four Jesuits, dressed as private gentlemen, are in London making some secret propaganda, and others are said to be about the kingdom in larger numbers.
The Council desires the King of Scotland to succeed to the throne, and has placed Lady Arabella under close custody, as her conduct is thought to have killed the Queen (riputata con le sue attioni homicida della Regina). The King of Scotland has the Catholics against him; they openly call him a schismatic. The heretics partly desire him, and say that for the safety of the kingdom he will never permit two religions, but partly they reject him as a stranger, and threaten death to all strangers. All the same he will be proclaimed King; and it is rumoured that he has pacified the factions of Scotland by a general pardon, and that the nobles of both factions join with the people to follow him. The English, however, insist that he shall enter this country unarmed. The Queen's jewels and silver are already locked away with the crown jewels in the Tower of London. Many private individuals are doing the same with their jewels, and some even with their persons; for every house and everybody is in movement and alarm.
The Spanish have no following here, nor are they even mentioned; their name is hated. The French are but little liked, and not quite safe. I am living in good hopes, and about my commission, which I have personally advanced with the Council, I will write on another occasion, if it please God.
London, 3rd April 1603.
Postscript.—Last night Sir Robert Carey (Baron Cree) left for Scotland to convey to the King the news of the Queen's death, which took place last evening, and this evening the Earl of Northumberland, the Earl of Cumberland and others will leave to welcome the King into England. The proclamation of His Majesty's succession is hourly expected. They are placing under arms four thousand infantry in London, at the public charges, and their headquarters are in the churches.
Copies of this despatch have been sent through Holland, Amsterdam and Middleburg, by small boats which sailed from the porti Selvatici (? the Cinque Ports); and this goes viâ Antwerp and Cologne, whence the letters are carried express day and night to Venice, by an excellent service.
April 4. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1167. Marin Cavalli, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
The Queen of England's illness is inflammation and a swelling in the throat, contracted by sitting late at council. On retiring she felt the beginnings of the mischief, which at once caused the entire loss of appetite the first day, and the second deprived her of sleep; and for two days she went without nourishment, nor would she ever submit to take medicine. She saw some rose water on her table and some currants, and she took a fancy for some. After her forehead was bathed she fell asleep. When she woke the gathering in her throat burst, and the attendants were alarmed lest the blood should suffocate her, or cause her to break a blood vessel. She has a little fever. This is all the news up to the twenty-second or twenty-third.
The Council at which the Queen assisted was held to discuss Spanish affairs; the Council endeavour to persuade her to pardon Tyrone; she is very unwilling. Two of her councillors ventured to propose to her that she should pardon the Earl, to which she assented, and that she should name her successor; she exhorted them to be loyal and said that she had received the kingdom from her kin, and to her kin she would leave it. This was taken as meaning the King of Scotland, and the nobility is all ready to set out to meet him.
Paris, 4th April 1603.
April 4. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1168. Marin Cavalli, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
The English Parliament took two deliberations, one that any who had schemed for the succession while the Queen was still alive was absolutely excluded; and that all who say that the Parliament has not authority to make such an order shall be treated as rebels. These were both intended to modify the pretensions of the King of Scotland.
The King can be in England eight days after his succession; but the English will admit him and his suite only, no troops. The fleet will be kept back till things have settled down under the new King. The States of Holland will give all their support to the King, both because they are interested in the preservation of England, and because they have already taken every step to secure the King's favour.
The uproar, which has happened in England recently, about Arabella, fell out thus. She was under very strict custody of her grandmother, Lady Shrewsbury (Rosciosberi); and was never allowed to be alone or in any way mistress of her actions. At thirty years old, which she now is, this irritated her; and she resolved to write to the Earl of Hertford, who was living on his estates, two hundred miles from London, complaining of her fate, asking him to free her, and promising to marry his son, Lord Bescen (Beauchamp), who, however was married fifteen years ago, and has a wife still alive. When the Earl heard that the letter came from Arabella he would not receive it, but summoning his family to him he sent the letter straight to the Council; in suspicion that the Earl had on other occasions tampered with Arabella, he was summoned to London, where on examination he denied all. The letter was shown to Arabella, who went down on her knees and implored pardon; declaring that she had taken this step in order to induce the Queen to change her prison, for she knew that any other must be much milder than the one she was in; that is the story as the Queen's principal ministers tell it.
Paris, 4th April 1603.
April 7. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1169. Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Ambassador in England, to the Doge and Senate.
The Queen, towards the close of her illness and of her life, after some few hours' sleep, returned to the full possession of her senses. On April the first she recognised that she was dying, and caused the Lords of the Council to be summoned to her presence. With tears and sighs she said that she saw herself so weak and ill that her life could last little or rather no longer. She exhorted and commanded them to have due care for the peace of the realm, and to see that the Crown came to the most deserving, whom she in her secret thought had always held to be the King of Scotland, both in right of birth and because he excelled her in merit, having been born a King, while she was but a private person. He ought to be all the more acceptable to them in that he brought with him a whole Kingdom while she had brought nothing but herself, a woman. As for the most important amount of her own private property, accumulated through a reign of forty-five years, (which is calculated to pass four and a half millions in gold), she declared that she would make no other provision about it but that it was to follow the succession.
The same day she spoke of certain things which weighed upon her conscience, and recalled to mind the death of the Earl of Essex. Then rising to topics of religion, she said that she had been at war with Pontiffs and princes, and touched upon two principal points of variance from the Church of Rome, the use of the vernacular in prayers, and the question of the Sacrament, upon which I will not enlarge; enough that from her remarks and from her prayers that God would not reckon against her in the next life the blood of priests shed by her, there are some Catholics about court who think that in her inner sentiments her Majesty was not far from reconciliation with the true Catholic faith. This view is confirmed, because it was observed that in her private chapel she preserved the altar with images, the organs, the vestments which belong to the Latin rite, and certain ceremonies which are loathed by other heretics; also because upon her death-bed she held the hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury until she had breathed her last, while it is quite certain that he had a disposition towards Catholicism, as he showed by certain external signs, such as his abstention from matrimony, and his use of unleavened bread when administering the sacrament. All this stabs the heretics to the heart, and they would fain silence the report, though all agree that the Queen died as she had lived.
Be that as it may, she died a Queen who had lived for long, both gloriously and happily in this world. With her dies the family of Tudor, originally of Welsh extraction. As to her personal appearance, she leaves the fame of past though never quite lost beauty. As to her mental qualities, they quote ever so many instances of prudence, not emanating from the Council, but in many important cases the result of her sole deliberation. She possessed nine languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue; five of these were the languages of peoples governed by her, English, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, for that part of her possessions where they are still savage, and Irish. All of them are so different, that it is impossible for those who speak the one to understand any of the others. Besides this, she spoke perfectly Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian extremely well. The Kingdom is naturally strong in the tides which wash its shores, and vary as much as six and more fathoms of water. For defence of the Kingdom the Queen leaves behind her thirty-eight ships between great and small. One of these she kept as a trophy on shore; it was the ship in which Drake made his circumnavigation of the globe. (fn. 1) Only fifteen of these thirty-eight are fitted out, just now, with munitions of war. There are munitions sufficient in store to arm upwards of two hundred ships. And she can raise forty thousand men, besides the sixty thousand already entered on the parish registers for the protection of the shore; add to these ships the Scottish fleet, whatever size it may be, and one may almost say that the new King can make a bridge of ships across the sea. The Queen leaves a quantity of jewels, both belonging to the Crown and her own private property, but not more than half a million in money. The ordinary revenue amounts to a million, and the extraordinary to another million. The extraordinary includes two subsidies of five hundred thousand crowns, payable every six months during the next two years. This revenue will be all the more serviceable for the new King as the expenses of garrisoning the Scottish frontier will now cease. Besides, they will cut down the two hundred and fifty thousand crowns a year, which the Queen devoted to the personal expenses of the Court, or if they resolve to maintain such luxury, the expenses of the Scottish Court will be saved, and they say that owing to the Queen of Scotland these were very great.
As the Queen's illness came from nothing but rage, and as her habit was sober and clean, some, forgetting her age, think that she may have been assisted to death. They even name the person, and say that actions of this magnitude begin in danger and end in reward.
No sooner was the Queen's death known, which was the very hour it took place, at two o'clock on the morning of the third of this month (a. 2 venendo 3, del corrente), than the Council, in view of the great doubts and anxiety manifest among the nobility and people lest some rising should happen, gave orders for the solemn proclamation of the new King, this took place on the fourth. James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England, was duly proclaimed in the terms your Serenity will read in the enclosure. This ceremony, though carried out with all pomp, fell so flat that there was evidently neither sorrow for the death of the Queen, nor joy for the succession of the King.
In the great tumult of arms in the hands of the heretics alone, for the head of every house in London was armed, the Catholics gave up all hope for the present; and as sixty of their more prominent members were imprisoned, the rest had not the courage to say a word for themselves; while silence and alarm reigned on both sides.
The adherents of Lady Arabella, of the Earl of Hertford, and the Earl of Huntingdon, not knowing what thread to hold on by, are all keeping quiet, although no one of them has signed the proclamation. In fact the whole affair passed off in a hurly-burly it is true but, contrary to general expectation, quite peaceably. The Lords of the Council, vaunted that the accession of the King would mean peace for the realm, seeing that he has sought it on all hands, and would therefore preserve it, but it is soon seen not to be so, for yesterday and to-day comes news that the Earl of Hertford, who was not to be found, is now in the west and raising foot and horse, with the intention of proclaiming himself King in his own right and more so in that of Arabella.
London, 7th April 1603.
Enclosed in preceding Despatch. 1170. A translation of the Proclamation of James as King of England. (fn. 2)
April 7. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1171. Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Secretary in England, to the Doge and Senate.
While the Queen was still alive, but ill, the Council met every day at Richmond, and, with the assistance of some Lords especially summoned, it discussed the question whether by ancient Act of Parliament the supreme authority of this Kingdom did not reside in the Council, and those specially invited to bring the number up to twenty-four at least. The decision was negative. While this was going on I sent a note to the Secretary, who is also a member of the Council, telling him how much I regretted the Queen's illness, which must delay all business, but said that I had instructions from your Serenity upon pressing matters, and begged him to see whether a part or the whole Council would not hear my most just petition; I pleaded the urgency of the business as an excuse for my importunity. I was answered that although the Council was occupied with many most important matters, yet in its desire to satisfy your Serenity, it would hear me the next day in the afternoon.
I accordingly went down to Richmond, although it was Easter Day, and found all the Palace, outside and in, full of an extraordinary crowd almost in uproar, and on the tip-toe of expectation. I was immediately introduced into the Council Chamber. There I found sitting on long benches, on each side of a table, the Lord Chancellor, the Treasurer, the High Admiral, the Equerry (Scudiero), the Lord Chief Justice of England, the Treasurer and the Controller of the Royal Household, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and others not Peers but Knights. They numbered eleven in all, and no one was missing except the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is Primate of England and President of the Council as well. I was received with every mark of respect for your Serenity, although, as I have already reported, these Lords of the Council behave like so many kings. They compelled me to sit down on a brocaded chair at the head of the table, and listened to me with gracious and friendly mien. After touching slightly on the Queen's illness, I set forth as briefly as I could the instructions given me in your Serenity's despatch of the fifteenth of February, about the ship “Veniera,” seized by William Piers, with all its cargo, to the value of a hundred thousand ducats. I dwelt on the insult offered to the person of the Consul da Mosto, the Republic's representative, and through him to your Serenity yourself; and I insisted on the continued mischief wrought by English subjects; and pointed out that unless these grave excesses were vigorously remedied here, serious consequence for the subjects of both nations must inevitably follow. To prove how keenly your Serenity felt on this point, I produced your letter addressed to the Queen, and asked if they would receive it, open it, and reply to it. They answered, “certainly not just now.” I then said that if they desired I would leave them a copy, which pleased them greatly, and they caused it to be read. They all shrank at the news and they showed that they were affected by the narrative of this event, although they had heard some indistinct report already. They all with one voice declared that should it please God to send the stolen goods and the thief into their hands, your Serenity would be fully satisfied; but in the meantime they asked me to propose some action for them to take I begged them to give to me, to be transmitted to your Serenity, Royal Letters Patent, ordering all ships of this kingdom that call at Venetian ports to search for, and pursue as enemies of Her Majesty, William Piers and his companions, and to consign to your Serenity's representatives the ship and all on board it, and to do the same by any vessel which your Serenity's officers may indicate as having been guilty of such actions. That William Piers's goods be confiscated and his share in his father's property; also the property of William Lancaster, (Lenghcastel) his lieutenant; that proceedings be taken against the property of Thomas Dombel (Daumbel), a rich man, and against Richard Fishborne of Plymouth, joint owners of the said privateer, as guarantors for good and evil. And seeing that by law and custom of the Kingdom, no privateers are allowed to sail without guaranteeing that they will not damage the property of allies I demanded that the guarantors should be now compelled to make good the damage done; and I stated that in this case the guarantors are George Robinson (Robincon) of London, Mansar Stambauch, and the said Dombell, for the sole sum of two thousand ducats. My demands, except the one compelling the father of Pierce to pay his son's portion, seemed reasonable to the Lords of the Council. They promised to give the matter every attention and to send their decision to my lodging, and with this they gave me courteous leave.
Two clays later the Judge Advocate of the Fleet came to me; he had been present with other inferior ministers at my audience of Council. He asked for some authentic proofs which would allow the Council to pass sentence of confiscation against the culprits. I replied that I had nothing, and nothing more was necessary, except the word of your Serenity, and the fact itself. I finally agreed to draw up a memorandum, and to submit Consul da Mosto's letter, and he agreed to base his pleading on these two documents. I will not fail to secure a favourable issue; but I must spend some money, both here and at Plymouth, for not a single executive officer will move in this country without being first well paid. The Judge Advocate showed me by authentic document that Piers's ship is registered in the High Admiral's books as a privateer of only forty tons, and he said that the Council had shown great surprise that a Venetian ship, with a cargo of he bulk declared, should have let herself be captured by a ship much smaller. The Judge Advocate advances this as an excuse for the fact that the caution money on Piers's ship does not exceed two thousand ducats. He promised that, as the Admiralty is a permanent ministry, he would continue the proceedings against Piers, even if the Queen should die, which in fact she did; so we may hope that sentence, confiscation, and other steps will follow. And as regards the letters patent the Council yesterday informed me that I should have them as soon as the King gave them the seals.
I am sorry to say that my hopes of getting the sentence in the cases of Diego Pires and Christofalo Cornelis revoked in whole or in part, are for the present extinguished, for there is no one now competent to deal with them. And it is doubtful whether the King will revise action not taken during his reign. Meantime the persons to whom the goods were adjudged have taken possession; and even the Admiral and the Secretary, who first of all promised to renounce their share, have now hastily appropriated themand declare that their first offer was sincerely made in view of the Queen's obvious wish to please your Serenity, but that in justice her subjects could not be expected to deprive themselves of what the law had awarded them. And had your Serenity delayed a single month to send someone, the concession already made by the Queen would have run great risk of never being effected, owing to her death. But I took care that the ship moved down the river before the Queen died and she is sure to sail with the first fair weather. Captain King (Chinch) gave me great satisfaction in this.
In this question of the Spanish ships with Venetian goods, the English rely entirely on a statute, XVIII. Henry VI., that is 1440. Now after one hundred and sixty years they wish to put in force this law of a King who was killed as a tyrant, and argue that it has the weight of a law of nations. The representatives of the interested parties did not raise the question as to whether the ships were really Spanish or no, and so the principal point has not been settled, as between Princes. I have always denied that Venetian merchants can be made amenable to this law, for they are so distant, and are also subjects of an ally. Besides the phrase “on the sea” or “on the coast” can only apply to that sea or that coast where it lies with the English sovereign to grant safe conducts, and not to such distant waters as the straits of Gibraltar, and by consequence the Mediterranean where the seizure took place. I further argue, that although in time of war a safe conduct for these seas may have been necessary, disusure has cancelled the statute. Further, that in fact a general safe conduct has been issued to all ships not carrying contraband of war. These arguments I urged on the Commissioners, on the Judge Advocate, and on Secretary Parkins who came to discuss the matter, and embodied them in a memorandum I intended to present to the Queen.
I think it my duty to send a copy of the statute, which, however, can only have the force of a local law.
I shall wait the King's coming to open the subject to him.
London, 7th April 1603.
Enclosed in Preceding Despatch. 1172. Translation of Chap. VIII. Statute of XVIII. Henry VI.
Seeing that many of our common subjects, masters, and mariners of ships and vessels of this Kingdom, having captured vessels belonging to the Spanish or other foes, are frequently defrauded of their prize by the petitions of foreign friendly merchants presented to the King in Council or to the Chancellor supported by false bills of lading and false marks, which cause the goods captured to be restored to the petitioners; and seeing that this greatly injures and discourages owners, masters, and mariners, and checks the building of privateers;
Be it decreed that foreign friendly merchants may safely ship goods on board ships provided with a safe conduct from the King in which the name of the vessel and its masters is stated. Any vessel captured by the English on the sea, which has not such a safe conduct shall be entered in the books of the Chancery and shall with all its goods belong to the captors any statute or ordinance notwithstanding. And this statute shall be immediately published on the coast of the sea for the information of said foreign merchants.
April 7. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1173. Marin Cavalli, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
The Governors of Calais and Dieppe have informed the King that as no one has arrived from England for many days they imagine that the ports must be closed. It is thought that the Queen must be dead.
Paris, 7th April 1603.
April 10. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1174. Marin Cavalli, Venetian Ambassador in France, to the Doge and Senate.
After twenty days' illness the Queen of England died on the third of this month, and immediately afterwards, by common consent, the King of Scotland was proclaimed King, with public rejoicings in London. Some nobles left at once to meet the new King at the border. This news came to his Majesty by express this morning.
Paris, 10th April 1603.
April 17. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1175. Simon Contarini, Venetian Ambassador in Spain, to the Doge and Senate.
I have just received news that the Queen of England is dead. The French Ambassador told me. The King of Scotland has succeeded to the throne.
Valladolid, 17th April 1603.
April 19. Original Despatch, Venetian Archives. 1176. Francesco Vendramin, Venetian Ambassador in Rome, to the Doge and Senate.
All the week there have been rumours, first of the sickness, then of the death of the Queen of England. Now it is confirmed by the news received by the French Ambassador. The King of Scotland has succeeded quietly.
Rome, 19th April 1603.


  • 1. “The Pelican” alias “The Golden Hind,” lying in Deptford Dock.
  • 2. Calendar of State Papers. Domestic. 1603–1610, p. 1.