I’ve been meaning to read the 1981 article by Kenneth R. Bartlett for a while concerning the English exile community in Venice during the reign of Mary I. I first discovered it during my PhD but laid it aside as it was not directly relevant to my studies at the time. I’m glad that I’ve finally found a reason (and opportunity) to make amends in this regard. Bartlett’s topic (which incidentally derives from his own PhD thesis) certainly makes for an interesting parallel to the thesis of Christina Garrett in her largely biographical investigation of the English exiles that ended up in various cities along the Rhine. Bartlett certainly brings to my attention the fact that there was an exile community in Venice largely, but not entirely separate, from the exiles in Strasbourg, Frankfort and Basel.
The Venice exiles whilst made up largely of protestant reformers, were nevertheless not primarily religious in their exile from Mary’s England, but political. Many had been involved in Northumberland’s failed plot to supersede Princess Mary to the throne through the use of Lady Jane. Indeed, Bartlett argues that their aspirations continued through a conspiracy led primarily by Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon and through allegiance to the Venetian Republic whom had strong reasons to block and then disrupt the marriage of Mary to Philip of Spain. The conspiracy against Mary was therefore three-pronged in nature: from the perspective of the English political exiles in Venice it was about establishing an independent and Protestant monarchy in England. For the Venetian Republic it was a directed policy against Imperial Hapsburg power becoming ‘permanently established in England’. Then thirdly the conspiracy related to political manoeuvring in England’s Parliament and from the Dudley faction in France.
So what does all this have to do with scholarly activity in the sixteenth century? Well it actually has a potentially important role to play, albeit in a round-about way. Bartlett claims that the Venetian exile community ‘was to have the greatest influence on the political complexion of the next reign’ – that being the protestant reign of Elizabeth I. Bartlett stresses that 24 of the 42 former exiles that returned to Parliament between 1559 and 1593 had spent at least part of their time in exile in Italy. These were the movers and shakers of Elizabeth’s government and thus a significant influence on the scholarly activities that were allowed, encouraged and produced during the early period of Elizabeth’s reign. Also of particular importance was the connection of William Cecil who would of course go on to become Elizabeth’s principal secretary. During the reign of Mary, Cecil maintained relations with the exile communities both in Germany and Italy/France and only narrowly escaped punishment for suspicion that he had been involved in the Dudley conspiracy.