Wotton Woes

Unknown Artist, Portrait of Henry Wotton, 1657, Engraving, 230 x 148 mm, London, British Museum

In the Foscarini Affair Wotton seems to have seen another opportunity to put the hurt on the Catholic noblewoman under his watch as English ambassador in Venice. According to Lord Arundel, he had known about the allegations of the Senate for more than two weeks, however, Lady Arundel only learned of the impending scandal through one of his employees. If Lady Arundel had followed the ambassador’s advice and left the city as quickly and quietly as possible, her behaviour would have been interpreted as an admission of guilt. The Countess’s reputation would have been irrevocably damaged, her credibility lost, and her position at the English court endangered.

Lord Arundel writes to Lord Doncaster on May 13, 1622:

„(…) For Sr Henry Wotton’s parte, I will only say this, that if she had eyther bin amazed with the sodaynes (suddenness) and confidence of his first advertisemente, and soe have retired her selfe as he wished, or afterwardes have let it reste as he advised, her honor had bin destroyed. But I thanke Almighty God she was guided by a better spiritte, wch protectes the innocencye, and turnes ye wickedest intentions to quite contrary effectes.“

Mary Hervey, Life and Times of Lord Arundel 1921

The Countess’s reaction to Wotton’s advice shows her political instinct as well as how little she trusted the ambassador. Thomas Hardy reconstructs the course of the story on the basis of the Venetian files:

„John Dyneley, secretary of Sir Henry Wotton, the English ambassador to the Signory (…) informed her that he had been dispatched by the ambassador to deliver a message to her in private. The Countess declined to receive any private communication, and requested Mr. Dyneley to deliver his message publicly before her suite (…) Lady Arundel immediately answered the ambassador’s secretary, that having nothing to reproach herself with she saw no reason for her return to Dolo. She immediately (…) proceeded, not to her residence at the Mocenigo Palace, but to the English embassy. There in the presence of all her attendants the Countess had a long conference with Ambassador Wotton.“

Thomas Hardy, Report to the Master of the Rolls on Documents in the Archives of Venice 1866

In her audience with the Doge, which Wotton requested only because Lady Arundel kept insisting, and which fell on the day on which Foscarini’s lifeless body already was hanging in the piazza, Wotton concealed the fact that he had informed the Countess about the rumours of the conspiracy and advised her to flee Venetian jurisdiction. The Doge denied that the Countess’s name had ever been mentioned in connection with the trial of Foscarini.

“Yesterday this noble lady on returning home found a group of people discussing the fate of that unhappy gentleman who ended his days by the hand of the executioner. They said that common report traced a share in that affair back to her, and it was in discussion to make some intimation to her on the subject. She might be well advised to secure her reputation as people were speaking publicly on the subject. This lady therefore, feeling what was due to her birth and position, as wife of the Earl Marshal of England, and conscious of her own integrity, decided to appear before your Serenity getting me to introduce her to tell you these facts and receive your commands, as far from desiring to escape she wishes to submit herself to them in order to prove her sincerity and vindicate her reputation.“

Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice 17, April 29, 1622

The scandal turned into an international affair, and the Venetian government passed a resolution on April 28, 1622, officially confirming the Countess’ complete innocence.

The Senate invited Wotton and Lady Arundel to return the next day when the resolution was to be read their presence. In addition, Lady Arundel demanded and was granted a rather embarrassing document from Wotton. The English ambassador was asked to describe the course of events and especially his role in the affair in detail, then read his report to the Doge and send it to England together with a letter by Lady Arundel to James I. His bad advice to the Countess should not go unnoticed in London.

„A true report in substance of the reasons that moved the Right Honourable and Excellent Lady, Countess of Arandell and Surrie, to demand access to the Duke of Venice as he sat in College; which she had the 22th of April, 1622/ Sir Henry Wotton (…) his poor advice was (under her Ladyship’s correction), that she should do well to stay abroad in her villa, without coming to Venice until the said ambassador should send her further information (…).“

Logan Pearsall Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton 1907
Giacomo Franco, A Procession through the Piazza San Marco, 1610, Engraving, 267 x 173 mm, London, British Museum

Wotton sent the report to James I on January 27, 1623. As compensation for injustice suffered, 100 ducats in the form of wax and confectionery were given as a gift for the countess. After the reading of the resolution, these were brought to Lady Arundel in the Palazzo Mocenigo in a solemn procession.

„In proof of our good-will we have decided to present the lady with various confections and other refreshments (…) one hundred ducats in confections and wax to be sent in the name of the State to the Countess of Arundel.“

Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice 17, April 29, 1622

The role of the Countess in this episode of supposed political conspiracy became known at courts across Europe. A letter to Dudley Carleton speaks of an unprecedented drama, “a play never plaide before to see a Lady of that quality go to justifie her selfe in the college upon so littel ground as ydle rumors.” Peter Parolin argues that the Countess used the Foscarini Affair to establish herself as a figure on the political stage in order to subsequently be able to act independently in public. Lady Arundel earned herself a reputation of an indomitable fighter, a modern Amazon, through her appearance before Doge Antonio Priuli.


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