Source: James Harvey Robinson, Readings in European History. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1906.
Transcribed by Emily Bagienski.
I. THE SAGACIOUS VENETIAN AMBASSADOR, [SEBASTIAN] GIUSTINIANI [also Giustinian], THUS DESCRIBES KING HENRY VIII, QUEEN CATHERINE, AND WOLSEY, IN 1519:
His Majesty is twenty-nine
years old and extremely handsome; nature could not have done more for him.
He is much handsomer than any other sovereign in Christendom; a great deal
handsomer than the king of France; very fair, and his whole frame admirably
proportioned. On hearing that Francis I wore a beard, he allowed
his own to grow, and, as it is reddish, he has now a beard that looks like
gold. He is very accomplished, a good musician, composes well, is
a most capital horseman, a fine jouster, speaks good French, Latin, and
Spanish; is very religious,--hears three masses daily when he hunts, and
sometimes five on other days. He hears the office every day in the
queen’s chamber,--that is to say, vespers and compline.
He is very fond of hunting, and never takes his diversion without tiring eight or ten horses, which he causes to be stationed beforehand along the lines of country he means to take; and when one is tired he mounts another, and before he gets home they are all exhausted. He is extremely fond of tennis, at which game it is the prettiest thing in the world to see him play, his fair skin glowing through a shirt of finest texture. He gambles with the French hostages, to the amount occasionally, it is said, of from six thousand to eight thousand ducats in a day.
He is affable and gracious, harms no one, does not covet his neighbor’s goods, and is satisfied with his own dominions, having often said to me, “Sir ambassador, we want all potentates to content themselves with their own territories; we are satisfied with this island of ours.” He seems extremely desirous of peace.
He is very rich. His father left him ten millions of ready money in gold, of which he is supposed to have spent one half in the war against France, when he had three armies on foot: one crossed the Channel with him, another was in the field against Scotland, and the third remained with the queen in reserve….
The queen is the sister of the mother of the king of Spain, now styled King of the Romans. She is thirty-five years old and not handsome, though she has a very beautiful complexion. She is religious, and as virtuous as words can express. I have seen her but seldom.
The cardinal of York is of low origin, and has two brothers, one of whom holds an untitled benefice, and the other is pushing his fortune. He rules both the king and the entire kingdom. On my first arrival in England he used to say to me, “His Majesty will do so and so.” Subsequently, by degrees, he forgot himself, and commenced saying, “We shall do so and so.” At this present he has reached such a pitch that he says, “I shall do so and so.” He is about forty-six years old, very handsome, learned, extremely eloquent, of vast ability, and indefatigable. He alone transacts as much business as that which occupies all the magistracies, offices, and councils of Venice, both civil and criminal; and all state affairs likewise are managed by him, let their nature be what it may.
II. THE VENETIAN AMBASSADOR, GIOVANNI MICHELE [also Michiel], MADE A REPORT TO HIS GOVERNMENT IN 1557 ON THE STATE OF ENGLAND. HE THUS DESCRIBES QUEEN MARY AND HER HUSBAND, PHILIP II:
Queen Mary, the daughter
of Henry VIII and of his queen Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand the Catholic,
king of Aragon, is a princess of great worth. In her youth she was
rendered unhappy by the event of her mother’s divorce; by the ignominy
and threats to which she was exposed after the change of religion in England,
she being unwilling to unbend to the new one; and by the dangers to which
she was exposed by the duke of Northumberland, and the riots among the
people when she ascended the throne.
She is of short stature, well made, thin and delicate, and moderately pretty; her eyes are so lively that she inspires reverence and respect, and even fear, wherever she turns them; nevertheless she is very shortsighted. Her voice is deep, almost like that of a man. She understands five languages,--English, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian, in which last, however, she does not venture to converse. She is also much skilled in ladies’ work, such as producing all sorts of embroidery with the needle. She has a knowledge of music, chiefly on the lute, on which she plays exceedingly well. As to the qualities of her mind, it may be said of her that she is rash, disdainful, and parsimonious rather than liberal. She is endowed with great humility and patience, but withal high-spirited, courageous, and resolute, having during the whole course of her adversity not been guilty of the least approach to meanness of deportment; she is, moreover, devout and stanch in the defense of her religion.
Some personal infirmities under which she labors are the causes to her of both public and private affliction; to remedy these recourse is had to frequent bloodletting, and this is the real cause of her paleness and the general weakness of her frame. These have also given rise to the unfounded rumor that the queen is in a state of pregnancy. The cabal she has been exposed to, the evil disposition of the people toward her, the present poverty and the debt of the crown, and her passion for King Philip, from whom she is doomed to live separate, are so many other causes of the grief with which she is overwhelmed. She is, moreover, a prey to the hatred she bears my Lady Elizabeth as successor to the throne….
King Philip is of short stature, but his person appears to advantage both when armed and in common attire. Though of great affability and politeness, his character is marked with gravity. His understanding is good and his judgment correct. Besides Spanish, he knows Latin, French, and Italian. He is also liberal and religious, but without possessing either the dignity or the ambition of his father….As to his authority in England, your Serene Highness may be assured that in all affairs of importance, whether public or private, he is made to act precisely the same part as if her were the natural king of England, and this on account of the great respect and love with which he is treated by the queen and Cardinal Pole. Sensible, however, that he is new in this kingdom, he modestly, and wisely too, leaves everything to the management of the queen and the cardinal [Pole]. He receives petitions, but more in the character of mediator than as a patron, letting justice take its course in criminal cases, but frequently stepping forward to procure pardon or mitigation of punishment after conviction….
Religion, although thriving in this country is, I apprehend, in some degree the offspring of dissimulation. The queen is far from being lukewarm; she has already founded ten monasteries, and is about to found more. Generally speaking, your Serene Highness may rest assured that with the English the example and authority of the sovereign is everything, and religion is only so far valued as it inculcates the duty due from the subject to the prince. They live as he lives, they believe as he believes, and they obey his commands, not from any inward moral impulse, but because they fear to incur his displeasure; and they would be full as zealous followers of the Mohammedan or Jewish religions did the king profess either them, or command his subjects to do so. In short, they will accommodate themselves to any religious persuasion, but most readily to one that promises to minister to licentiousness and profit.
III. JAMES MELVILLE, A TRUSTED AMBASSADOR OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, TELLS IN HIS MEMOIRS OF AN INTERVIEW WITH QUEEN ELIZABETH IN 1564, WHEN SHE WAS THIRTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE.
During nine days that
I remained at the court it pleased her Majesty to confer with me every
day and sometimes thrice in a day,--in the morning, after dinner, and after
supper. Sometimes she would sat that, seeing she could not meet with
the queen [i.e. Mary], her good sister, to confer with her familiarly,
she was resolved to open a good part of her inward mind to me, that I might
show it again to the queen….[She said,] “I am resolved never to marry if
I be not thereto necessitated by the queen, my sister’s, harsh behavior
toward me.” “I know the truth of that, madam,” said I; “you need
not tell me. Your Majesty thinks if you were married you would be
but queen of England; and now you are both king and queen. I know
you spirit cannot endure a commander.”
She appeared to be so affectionate to the queen, her good sister, that she expressed a great desire to see her; and because their (so much by her desired) meeting could not be so hastily brought to pass she appeared with great delight to look upon her Majesty’s picture….
The queen, my mistress, had instructed me to leave matters of gravity sometimes and cast in merry purposes, lest otherwise I should be wearied, she being well informed of that queen’s natural temper. Therefore, in declaring my observations of the customs of Dutchland, Poland, and Italy, the buskins of the women was not forgot, and what country weed [i.e. costume] I thought best becoming gentlewomen. The queen said she had clothes of every sort; which every day thereafter, so long as I was there, she changed. One day she had the English weed, another the French, another the Italian, and so forth. She asked me which of them became her best. I answered, in my judgement [sic], the Italian dress; which answer I found pleased her well, for she delighted to show her golden-colored hair, wearing a caul and bonnet as they do in Italy.
Her hair was more reddish than yellow, curled in appearance naturally. She desired to know of me what color of hair was reputed best, and whether my queen’s hair or hers was best, and which of them two was fairest. I answered that the fairness of them both was not their worst faults. But she was earnest with me to declare which of them I judged fairest. I said she was the fairest queen in England and mine the fairest queen in Scotland. Yet she appeared earnest. I answered they were both the fairest ladies in their countries; that her Majesty was whiter, but my queen was very lovesome.
She inquired which of them was of highest stature. I said my queen. “Then,” saith she, “she is too high; for I myself am neither too high nor too low.” Then she asked what kind of exercises she used. I answered that when I received my dispatch the queen was but lately come from the highland hunting; that when her more serious affairs permitted she was taken up with reading of histories; that she sometimes recreated herself in playing upon the lute and virginals. She asked if she played well. I said, reasonably, for a queen.
to Document Discovery Project